The average price for regular gasoline at U.S. pumps jumped 8.5 cents in the past two weeks to a 13-month high of $3.6918 a gallon, according to Lundberg Survey Inc.
The survey covers the period ended April 18 and is based on information obtained at about 2,500 filling stations by the Camarillo, California-based company.
Prices are the highest since March 22, 2013. The average is 15.55 cents higher than a year ago, Lundberg said. Gasoline has risen 39.74 cents a gallon since bottoming out in February and is up 43 cents this year.
“The most important factor right now in this rise is crude oil, which rose by a very similar amount to the street-price move,” Trilby Lundberg, the president of Lundberg Survey, said in a telephone interview yesterday. “From here, we will probably see very little increase, if any, with the big caveat of course being crude. If crude prices climb even higher, then this may not be the peak.”
An “extremely robust” rise in U.S. gasoline demand may have also helped increase retail prices, according to Lundberg. Demand for the motor-fuel in the last four weeks is up 4.6 percent from the same period a year ago, Energy Information Administration data show.
Here’s the chart, courtesy of gasbuddy.com. Gas prices have jumped 11% since the end of January.
Data, Anecdotes Indicate ACA Damping Hiring, Wages
Bloomberg economist Richard Yamarone:
(…) Several business people have cited the Affordable Care Act (ACA ) as the primary obstacle to hiring and capital spending. Essentially the ACA forces any business with more than 50 employees working more than 30 hours a week to offer some form of healthcare to its staff. Since reducing staff below 50 is not an option for some restaurant chains, such as Darden Group which employs more than 200,000 people, cutting hours worked is the only viable move. The data support this: hours worked in the retail and leisure and hospitality sectors are below 30 hours a week and hiring has increased in these two industries.
During March, the leisure and hospitality group added 29,000 positions, while retailers increased payrolls by 21,300. Combined, these two industries account for 25 percent of all private workers, so it is a significant percent of the labor market. The data support this trend of increased low-wage hiring in avoidance of the ACA mandate. (…)
Pretty clear, isn’t it?
Mortgage Lenders Ease Rules for Buyers Mortgage lenders are beginning to ease the restrictive lending standards enacted after the housing boom turned to bust, a sign of their rising confidence in the housing market
Or a sign of weak demand.
(…) One such lender is TD Bank, Toronto-Dominion Bank‘s U.S. unit, which on Friday began accepting down payments as low as 3% through an initiative called “Right Step,” geared toward first-time buyers and low- and moderate-income buyers. TD initially launched the program last year with a 5% down payment. It keeps the product on its books and doesn’t charge for insurance. Borrowers also don’t need to put down any of their own cash if a family, state or nonprofit group provides a down-payment gift.(…)
Valley National Bank, a community bank based in Wayne, N.J., lowered down-payment requirements to 5% from 25% this month on mortgages for certain buyers in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Next month, Arlington Community Federal Credit Union, based in Arlington, Va., will begin accepting 3% down payments on mortgages up to $417,000, down from 5%.
Low-down-payment mortgages never went away after the housing bust. Instead, they shifted from private lenders to the Federal Housing Administration, which insures loans with down payments of just 3.5%.
Over the past year, however, more than one in six loans made outside of the FHA included down payments of less than 10%, the highest share since 2008, according to figures from data firm Black Knight Financial Services. That still is lower than the nearly 44% of the market they accounted for at the peak of the housing bubble in early 2007. (…
Another sign that banks could get less picky: Credit scores for borrowers seeking conventional mortgages also are easing. Scores on purchase mortgages stood at 755 in March, down from 761 a year earlier, according to data from Ellie Mae, a mortgage-software provider. Those on purchase loans backed by the FHA dropped to 684, compared with 696 one year earlier. (Under a system devised by Fair Isaac Corp., credit scores run on a scale from 300 to 850.)
Smaller lenders are accepting even lower scores. Average credit scores on purchase loans closed through a consortium called LendingTree fell to 679 in March, down from the year-earlier 715.(…)
While smaller lenders are trying to appeal to first-time buyers, larger lenders are gradually reducing down payments for jumbo loans—those too large for government backing—to woo wealthy customers. EverBank began accepting down payments of 10.1% for jumbo borrowers with strong credit this year, down from 20%, and Wells Fargo reduced to 15% from 20% its minimum down payment for jumbos last year. Bank of America made the same change for mortgages of up to $1 million. (…)
Japan posts largest-ever trade deficit Deficit has ballooned wider under Abenomics
(…) The gap between the value of Japan’s exports and that of its imports grew by more than two-thirds in the 12 months through March, to Y13.7tn ($134bn), according to government data released on Monday. It was the third consecutive fiscal year of deficits, the longest streak since comparable records began in the 1970s. (…)
Japanese export volumes have barely risen and the yen value of goods shipped to foreign markets has increased much more slowly than the value of imports.
Exports actually declined slightly by volume in January-March compared with the previous quarter, by 0.2 per cent on a seasonally adjusted basis, according to calculations by Credit Suisse, even as imports grew 4.5 per cent. (…)
Japan’s energy import bill has risen sharply in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011. All of the country’s operable atomic reactors are offline pending safety reviews, robbing Japan of a power source that provided 30 per cent of its electricity before the disaster.
Utilities have been forced to buy more foreign oil and gas to make up the difference, and a weaker yen has made each barrel that much pricier. National fuel imports jumped 18 per cent by value last year, according to Monday’s trade data. (…)
Overall Japanese exports increased 0.6 per cent by volume last fiscal year, Monday’s data showed, leading to a 10.8 per cent rise by value in light of the weaker yen. Imports rose 2.4 per cent by volume and 17.3 per cent by value.
Taiwan’s March export orders grew at the fastest pace in three months, adding to signs that the island is benefiting from recoveries in developed economies. Export orders, an early indicator of actual exports, rose 5.9% in March from a year earlier to US$37.9 billion, after a 5.7% February on-year rise, the Ministry of Economic Affairs said Monday.
Export orders placed with Taiwan are closely watched as a bellwether for the global economy and particularly the tech industry. (…) In the nine months since July, export orders from Europe and the U.S. rose nearly 4% on year, while those from China, Taiwan’s biggest export market, grew only 1.4%. (…)
In March, orders from Europe rose 8.9% from a year earlier, picking up from 1.3% on-year growth in February. Orders from Japan rose 18%, which was an improvement from February.
Orders from the U.S. were up 1.0%, following February’s 2.3% rise. Orders from China and Hong Kong rose 3.1% in March, slowing from February. Demand from China tapered off in March as China’s recent economic data pointed to weaker growth.
Orders for electronic products including semiconductors—roughly a quarter of total orders—rose 10.1%, following a 15.4% increase in February.
Orders for information and communication products like smartphones and components—also about a quarter of orders—gained 8.6% from a year earlier, after rising 3.2% in February.
New Tax Bug Bites Tech Firms First-quarter corporate earnings are getting clipped after Congress allowed a key tax credit to expire at year-end. Google is among the latest to cite the expired research-and-development tax credit for affecting its financial results.
The Internet search company Wednesday reported a first-quarter tax rate of 18%, up from 16% for all of 2013. Chief Financial Officer Patrick Pichette called out the expired credit on a conference call as one of the reasons for the higher rate.
If Google’s tax rate had remained 16%, its first-quarter earnings per share would have been $5.50, instead of the $5.33 Google reported.
Google isn’t the only one warning investors about a higher tax rate as a result of the expired credit. A spokeswoman for software maker Citrix Systems Inc. CTXS +0.16% said the expired credit is one reason the company projects its tax rate this year will increase to 19% from 13%. Set-top box maker Arris Group Inc.ARRS +1.92% said its per-share earnings will be 12 cents lower over the course of 2014. Analysts have projected 65 cents per share for the company, according to Capital IQ.
Others companies that have cited the tax impact of the expired credit include tool maker National Instruments Corp. NATI +0.88% , chip maker Atmel Corp. ATML +1.66% and spice maker McCormick MKC -0.21% & Co.
In most cases, the effect of the expired credit will be small. Semiconductor company Intel Corp. INTC +0.41% is one of the nation’s biggest spenders on research and development. A spokeswoman says the credit is typically worth more than $150 million a year to the company. Intel in 2013 reported net income of $9.6 billion.
The R&D tax credit, first enacted in 1981, has lapsed nine times since then. But it has always been renewed, with the credit typically made available retroactively.
Most recently, Congress renewed the credit in January 2013 and allowed companies to claim it retroactively for 2012. The credit had previously expired at the end of 2011.
That led to an accounting quirk early last year where many companies could claim five quarters of the credit in the first quarter of 2013.
Earlier this month, the Senate Finance Committee proposed renewing and expanding the credit through Dec. 31, 2015. The Senate proposal would expand the credit to let small companies—many of whom aren’t profitable and don’t pay income taxes—apply the credit to payroll taxes. (…)
Banks warn as low rates squeeze returns Average net interest margin falls to 2.64% at biggest US banks
(…) For the biggest four US banks with major consumer lending businesses, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Citi, the average net interest margin fell to 2.64 per cent in the first quarter, the lowest level in at least a decade, according to data compiled by Keefe, Bruyette & Woods and SNL Financial.
The continued decline is surprising analysts who expected the Federal Reserve’s withdrawal of economic stimulus to lead to higher rates and better profit margins at the biggest US banks.
“There’s no sign that there’s a bottoming out in the Nims yet,” said Frederick Cannon, a bank analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods. “What we’ve seen is tapering not having the effect that was expected.”
The yield on US 10-year Treasury bonds has fallen from 3 per cent in January to 2.7 per cent, even as the Federal Reserve has reduced its bond purchases. (…)
Rates on US Treasuries fell in the first quarter as there was higher demand from large pension funds and political turmoil in Ukraine spurred a shift to safer assets.
Banks’ other lever to improve margins – paying less to customers for deposits – has proved difficult because they are already so close to zero given the prolonged period of low rates since the financial crisis.
John Gerspach, Citi’s chief financial officer, told analysts last week: “We expect our net interest margin to decline by several basis points, likely followed by a modest increase in the back half of the year.”
Bruce Thompson, finance chief at BofA, said: “You would expect to see the Nim in the second quarter moderate a little bit.” (…)
At Wells Fargo, the total average loan yield fell 7 basis points in the first quarter from the previous quarter while the Nim fell to a low of 3.18 per cent.
The net interest margins of 33 US banks that have already reported their earnings fell by a median 3 basis points in the first quarter to 3.38 per cent, according to KBW Research and SNL Financial, showing that Nims have not quite ended their downward slide. (…)
Italy’s government on Friday approved the country’s first extensive income-tax cuts in more than a decade, a move expected to give up to €80 a month in extra cash to three-quarters of the workforce.
The cuts are worth €10 billion ($13.8 billion) over a year and will go into effect next month. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has said the measure is aimed at voters heading to the polls for the European Parliament elections in May. It is also meant to boost domestic demand and ease Italy’s dependence on export-led growth as foreign demand shows signs of slowing.
Mr. Renzi, whose center-left Democratic Party is currently enjoying record-high support in opinion polls, is making a high-stakes bet with the move, given his administration hasn’t identified all the budgetary savings required to fund the tax cuts on a permanent basis.
“These aren’t one-off tax cuts, they’re structural,” Mr. Renzi said.
He outlined €6.9 billion in targeted measures that would help lessen the impact on the state’s finances. Among them are plans to implement a maximum salary cap of €240,000 for public servants and €2 billion in savings on government purchases.
The government will also oblige local administrations to cut spending and make all their expenditures public. Otherwise, they face reduced transfers from the central government. (…)
The income-tax cuts will result in up to €1,000 in additional annual take-home pay for workers with salaries of up to €28,000 a year. Italian employees typically face tax rates of 50% and higher when the country’s stiff payroll contributions are included. The government hopes that by targeting the tax cuts at the medium and lower end of the wage spectrum they will boost consumption, which the Bank of Italy said remains 7% below its level in 2007. (…)
The Obama administration is indefinitely extending its review of the Keystone XL pipeline, likely delaying a decision on the project until after November’s U.S. midterm elections. (…)
Why This Bull Market Feels Familiar It Has Lots in Common With the ’90s Rally, but With Stronger Headwinds
(…) The middle of the 1990s in particular was especially good for investors, with stocks posting big gains despite a slow-growth economy dubbed the “jobless recovery.”
“While hoping the finale doesn’t also repeat, we are seeing a lot of similarities between today’s environment and the mid-1990s,” says Liz Ann Sonders, chief investment strategist at Charles Schwab.(…)
From 1990 through 1999—when the Internet stock bubble began to dominate the market—the S&P 500 more than tripled.
Much of those gains came in the years from 1995 through the end of 1998, when the S&P 500 rose an average of 28% a year. The stock market became dominated by a “buy the dip” mentality. Optimistic investors saw every downturn as an opportunity to buy more stocks—until the spring of 2000, when the dip turned into a crash.
“One similarity, which is also a lesson for today, is that there weren’t many pullbacks,” says Robert Doll, chief equity strategist at Nuveen Asset Management. Another dynamic, Mr. Doll recalls, is that before the tech bubble, leadership of the rally would rotate among sectors. That’s something that has been the case of late, he says. A concern among some investors is that it will be difficult for the rally to continue, with valuations having risen sharply over the past year.
In the mid-1990s, however, valuations were only slightly higher. From 1995 through the end of 1997, stocks in the S&P 500 traded at an average of 17.9 times the previous 12 months’ earnings, according to Standard & Poor’s. Today, the S&P 500 is at 17.4 times trailing earnings.
Ms. Sonders says the economic backdrop of the mid-1990s echoes today’s. “Like then, we are in a post-financial-crisis period accompanied by a ‘jobless,’ disinflationary recovery,” she says.
Of course, today’s economy is facing more significant headwinds than those that followed the savings-and-loan crisis of late 1980s. The July 1990-March 1991 recession was relatively shallow and short.
But like today, in the mid-1990s investors worried about the slow pace of employment growth and the prevalence of low-paying jobs among those positions being created.(…)
Aside from the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis, which sent a scare through global financial markets, the main hiccup for stocks came in 1994.
The cause was a jump in bond yields as the Federal Reserve began to raise interest rates faster than had been expected. From the end of January 1994 through the end of June, the S&P 500 lost 7.8%.
But that didn’t end the bull market. “If rates go up in line with improvement in the economy, that’s a good market environment for stocks,” says Ms. Sonders.
The lesson for investors today is that rising rates may pose a hurdle, but don’t have to mean the end of a bull market, says Mr. Piantedosi. “Once the Fed did what they needed to do with rates, we took off from there,” he says.
Still, Fed policy in the 1990s looked nothing like today’s stance at the Fed.
And there are other headwinds today that didn’t exist in the 1990s, Ms. Sonders notes. Profit margins are higher today, making it harder to generate profit gains. And economically, income inequality is greater now than two decades ago.
Another difference from the 1990s is that many stock investors are still wary after the bear markets of the early 2000s and the financial crisis.
Ultimately, whether stocks continue their bull market will depend on the fundamentals, not just similar charts, says Mr. Doll. “In order to get continued decent markets, I do think we need to see some more improvement in the economy and earnings growth,” he says. “But I think we’ll get it.”
In reality, as the chart below clearly illustrates, the end of the 1990s was actually a once-in-a-lifetime event. After the mild 1990 U.S. recession, valuations rose above the “20 Fair Value” line early in 1991 and equities returned some 5% annually until mid-1994 when the Rule of 20 P/E dropped below 18. Earnings jumped 40% during the following 30 months under stable 2.5% inflation, bringing the Rule of 20 P/E back to 20 by December 1996. Equities then roared ahead 25% during the next 9 months, crossing the yellow/red border into what Greenspan called “irrational exuberance” which brought the Rule of 20 P/E to 31.5.
Two major events characterized the 1995-2000 period:
profits rose 65% over 5 years while inflation declined from 3% to 1.5% (Oct. ‘98)
the growth of the internet mesmerized investors to the point where everything that was even remotely internet-related got valued into the stratosphere.
I can’t say whether the current social media craze will develop like the internet craze but I doubt that S&P 500 profits can jump 65% over the next five years without a meaningful acceleration in inflation. Recall that the rise in profit margins from their trough in 1991 to their peak in early 1998 accounted for 55% of the earnings advance during that period. The margin effect has been played out this cycle as EBIT margins troughed at 9.5% in 2009 and peaked at 15% in 2011, edging down to their normal cyclical high of 14% since. Profit growth is thus more likely to grown in line with nominal GDP growth until the next cyclical downturn.
It is also doubtful that inflation will decline much from current levels. In fact, it is much more likely to rise, if only because that is what the world’s major central banks are openly targeting. Similarly, we should also expect that long-term interest rates will rise over the next few years as tapering continues and inflation accelerates. That would be contrary to the drop in Treasury yields from nearly 9% in mid-1990 to 4.5% at the end of 1998.
In all, if this bull market feels familiar, it is only because of the growing cheerleading from the media and because of what follows. Please read on:
(…) More than 85% of investors are feeling optimistic about the investment landscape, and 74% think stocks have the greatest potential of any major asset class, according to a survey of 500 affluent investors released Monday by Legg Mason Global Asset Management. The survey was conducted in December and January. (…)
Lance Roberts comments:
However, the idea that individual investors are still “out of the market” should be taken with a bit of caution. The chart below is data compiled by the American Association of Individual Investors (AAII) which surveys it membership on portfolio allocation. The data is compiled and released monthly.
With cash hovering at the lowest levels since the “Tech Wreck,” and equity exposure at the highest, investors are more than just “warming up” to equities. They are effectively“all in” with respect to the financial markets. An analysis of investor sentiment (both professional and individual) and rising leverage confirm the same.
What is clear in all of this analysis is that investor behavior tends to be exactly the opposite of what it should be. (…)
Mutual Funds Moonlight as Venture Capitalists BlackRock, T. Rowe Price Group and Fidelity Investments are among the mutual-fund firms pushing into Silicon Valley at a record pace, snapping up stakes in high-profile startup companies.
Last year, BlackRock, T. Rowe, Fidelity and Janus Capital Group Inc. together were involved in 16 private funding deals—up from nine in 2012 and six in 2011, according to CB Insights, a venture-capital tracking firm.
This year, the four firms already have participated in 13 closed deals, putting 2014 on track to be a banner year for participation by mutual funds in startup funding. On Friday, T. Rowe was part of an investor group that finished a deal to pour $450 million into Airbnb, said people familiar with the matter.
Last week, peer-to-peer financing company LendingClub Corp. raised $115 million in equity and debt, the bulk of which came from fund firms including T. Rowe, BlackRock and Wellington Management Co.
Investors put money into venture-capital funds knowing it is a bet that a few untested companies will become big winners, making up for many losers. But mutual funds, the mainstay of the U.S. retirement market with $15 trillion in assets, aren’t typically supposed to swing for the fences. Instead, they put most of their money into established companies with the aim of making steady, not spectacular gains. (…)
But these deals are more opaque than most fund investments: Fund firms aren’t required to immediately disclose such investment decisions to investors, and privately held companies are also more challenging to value, making it more difficult to gauge how a stake is performing. (…)