It's that time of the week -- the markets are almost closed. It's time to think about anything else except the markets. I'll be back early Monday morning.
Open thread May 21, 2013
5 minutes ago
The Empire State Manufacturing Survey indicates that conditions for New York manufacturers continued to deteriorate in April, but at a much slower pace than in recent months. The general business conditions index climbed 24 points from its March record low, to -14.7. The new orders index shot up 41 points to a reading just below zero, and the shipments index rose 25 points, also reaching a level near zero. The inventories index continued to fall, hitting a record low -36.0. The indexes for both prices paid and prices received remained negative. The index for number of employees, while negative, improved in April, but the average workweek index fell. Future indexes were much improved, with the future general business conditions, new orders, and shipments indexes rising sharply to levels not seen since September of last year. The capital spending and technology spending indexes remained below zero, although they were considerably above last month’s levels.
JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM), bracing itself for more loan losses driven by the recession, delivered surprisingly strong first quarter results on Thursday.
Carried mainly by a recovery in securities trading that lifted JPMorgan Chase's investment banking revenue to a record, the bank said it's strong enough to pay back the U.S. Treasury Department even as it had to set more money aside for rising delinquencies and loan losses. Bond trading took away much of the pain from the recession.
JPMorgan Chase's profit for the quarter fell 10% from a year earlier, to $2.1 billion, but revenue jumped 48%, to $25.03 billion. The bank's shares rose about 1% in recent trading, to just almost $33.
Write downs related to illiquid, or so called toxic, securities and loans are "getting to be much less noteworthy," Chief Financial Officer Michael Cavanagh told investors during a conference call. However, JPMorgan Chase set aside $4.2 billion to cover future loan losses, $100 million more than in the fourth quarter - more than some analysts had expected.
JPMorgan Chase has a war chest of $28 billion to cover future loan losses, and that reserve is "staggeringly high" for some loan portfolios, Cavanagh said. Loan losses are expected to continue to rise, but not more so than previously expected, he said.
Citigroup Inc., the U.S. bank rescued by $45 billion in U.S. taxpayer funds, ended a five- quarter losing streak with a $1.6 billion profit on trading gains and an accounting benefit for companies in distress.
Citigroup surged 17 percent in New York trading. The first- quarter profit compared with a net loss of $5.11 billion, or 34 cents, a year earlier, the New York-based bank said. On a per- share basis, the bank reported an 18-cent loss because of costs related to preferred dividends. The average estimate of 13 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg was a loss of 32 cents.
Citigroup investors hadn’t seen a profit since before Chief Executive Officer Vikram Pandit took over in 2007. While the bank cut compensation costs and took fewer writedowns, it couldn’t halt rising delinquencies on home and credit-card loans. Citigroup benefited from higher fixed-income trading revenue that also bolstered earnings at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co.
Goldman, which had been expected to report earnings Tuesday morning, said it earned $3.39 per share, beating the Thomson Reuters average estimate of $1.67. The company reported net revenue of $9.43 billion, also easily outpacing the $7.19 billion expected by analysts.
The largest segment of Goldman's revenues came from "trading and principal investments" in its fixed-income currencies and commodities division.
Reports from the Federal Reserve Banks indicate that overall economic activity contracted further or remained weak. However, five of the twelve Districts noted a moderation in the pace of decline, and several saw signs that activity in some sectors was stabilizing at a low level.
Manufacturing activity weakened across a broad range of industries in most Districts, with only a few exceptions. Nonfinancial service activity continued to contract across Districts. Retail spending remained sluggish, although some Districts noted a slight improvement in sales compared with the previous reporting period. Residential real estate markets continued to be weak. Home prices and construction were still falling in most areas, but better-than-expected buyer traffic led to a scattered pickup in sales in a number of Districts. Nonresidential real estate conditions continued to deteriorate. Difficulty obtaining commercial real estate financing was constraining construction and investment activity. Spending on business travel declined as corporations cut back. Reports on tourism were mixed. Bankers reported tight credit conditions, rising delinquencies, and some deterioration of loan quality.
Agricultural conditions were generally favorable across Districts, although drought conditions persisted in the Dallas and San Francisco Districts. The Districts reporting on energy said reduced demand, high inventories, and lower prices led to steep cutbacks in oil and natural gas drilling and production activity. The Minneapolis, Kansas City, and Dallas Districts noted declines in employment in the oil and gas extraction industry.
Downward pressure on prices was reported across Districts. Wage and salary pressures eased as labor markets weakened in all Districts, and many contacts continued to report job cuts and wage and hiring freezes. Employment continued to decline across a range of industries, with only scattered reports of hiring.
The Chicago and Kansas City Districts said declines in production had slowed. The Cleveland District noted some leveling off in declines in new orders, and the New York and Dallas Districts noted that demand was beginning to bottom out following steep declines.
In contrast, orders and sales of high-tech equipment firmed somewhat at very weak levels in the Dallas and San Francisco Districts. Defense firms in the Boston and Cleveland Districts reported solid activity. Food manufacturers saw sales gains in the Philadelphia and San Francisco Districts, and a food manufacturer in the St. Louis District noted plans to open a new plant. Pharmaceutical firms in the Boston and Chicago Districts continued to see solid demand; petrochemical producers in the Dallas District noted a slight turnaround in operating rates.
Manufacturers' assessments of future factory activity improved marginally over the survey period as well, with contacts in the Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Kansas City Districts noting a slight upturn in the outlook for production and sales.
However, several Districts said sales rose slightly or declines moderated compared with the previous survey period. In particular, the Boston, Cleveland, and Chicago Districts reported an improvement in sales.
.... but [car] dealers in the Cleveland District reported minimal problems with floor-plan financing. While auto dealers in the Boston, Cleveland, and Kansas City Districts noted some improvements in the outlook, those in the Philadelphia and Dallas Districts expect continued weakness.
Housing markets remained depressed overall, but there were some signs that conditions may be stabilizing. Many Districts said factors such as homebuyer tax credits, low mortgage rates, and more affordable prices led to a rising number of potential buyers. The Richmond, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Kansas City, and San Francisco Districts noted a modest improvement in sales in some areas.
Most Districts reported weaker loan demand overall, but the reports were mixed across loan categories. In particular, the New York, Richmond, and Kansas City Districts noted an increase in residential real estate loans. Additionally, residential refinancing activity remained brisk, although the loan process was taking longer due to more stringent appraisals and underwriting standards.
In contrast, Districts including Cleveland, Chicago, and Minneapolis reported some hiring in healthcare. Contacts in the Richmond District noted solid demand for technically-skilled professionals and IT and office-support workers. The Chicago and Dallas Districts saw a slight uptick in hiring of finance personnel due to the sharp increase in mortgage refinance activity. The St. Louis District reported that a food manufacturer and some wood and plastic manufacturers planned on expanding their operations and hiring additional staff (however, conditions are still "bleak").
Industrial production fell 1.5 percent in March after a similar decrease in February. For the first quarter as a whole, output dropped at an annual rate of 20.0 percent, the largest quarterly decrease of the current contraction. At 97.4 percent of its 2002 average, output in March fell to its lowest level since December 1998 and was nearly 13 percent below its year-earlier level. Production in manufacturing moved down 1.7 percent in March and has registered five consecutive quarterly decreases. Broad-based declines in production continued; one exception was the output of motor vehicles and parts, which advanced slightly in March but remained well below its year-earlier level. Outside of manufacturing, the output of mines fell 3.2 percent in March, as oil and gas well drilling continued to drop. After a relatively mild February, a return to more seasonal temperatures pushed up the output of utilities. The capacity utilization rate for total industry fell further to 69.3 percent, a historical low for this series, which begins in 1967.
The timing and pace of the global economic recovery will determine whether the higher crude oil prices seen during March are sustainable. The prospects of limited growth in non-OPEC production and the expected start of economic recovery later this year, that should increase oil consumption and the demand for OPEC oil, are the main factors supporting the upward price path. If economic recovery begins earlier and is stronger than assumed in this Outlook, there is an upside risk of higher oil prices than currently projected. The downside risk to oil prices is a scenario of a prolonged economic downturn followed by a weak recovery, which could produce a greater decline in consumption than currently expected. This latter scenario would challenge the willingness of OPEC's members to sustain lower output levels for a longer period.
Consumption. World oil consumption is expected to drop by 1.35 million barrels per day (bbl/d) in 2009 compared with year-earlier levels, due to the global economic recession. EIA assumes that the global gross domestic product (GDP), weighted by oil consumption, will fall by 0.8 percent this year. Consumption is expected to fall by 1.6 million bbl/d in the OECD countries and rise by 270,000 bbl/d in non-OECD nations. The bulk of the decline is expected to be concentrated in the first half of the year (World Liquid Fuels Consumption). World oil consumption is expected to grow by 1.1 million bbl/d in 2010, driven by a recovery of global GDP growth to 2.6 percent.
The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) increased 0.2 percent in March, before seasonal adjustment, the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor reported today. The index has decreased 0.4 percent over the last year, the first 12 month decline since August 1955.
On a seasonally adjusted basis, the CPI-U decreased 0.1 percent in March after rising 0.4 percent in February. The decrease was due to a downturn in the energy index, which declined 3.0 percent in March after rising 3.3 percent the previous month. All the energy indexes decreased, particularly the indexes for fuel oil, natural gas, and motor fuel. The food index declined 0.1 percent for the second straight month to virtually the same level as October 2008. The food at home index declined 0.4 percent, the second straight such decrease, as the index for dairy and related products continued to decline.
All the energy indexes decreased, particularly the indexes for fuel oil, natural gas, and motor fuel. The food index declined 0.1 percent for the second straight month to virtually the same level as October 2008. The food at home index declined 0.4 percent, the second straight such decrease, as the index for dairy and related products continued to decline.
The index for all items less food and energy increased 0.2 percent for the third month in a row.
The Producer Price Index for Finished Goods decreased 1.2 percent in March, seasonally adjusted. This decline followed a 0.1-percent advance in February and a 0.8-percent increase in January.
Tech bellwether Intel late Tuesday reported first-quarter profit far above analyst views, but it again opted not to provide guidance for the current quarter because of the uncertain economy.
Worried investors sent Intel shares falling about 5.5% after hours, after it released results that included some positive indicators.
"We believe PC sales bottomed out during the first quarter, and that the industry is returning to normal seasonal patterns," Intel (INTC) Chief Executive Paul Otellini said in a statement.
The No. 1 chipmaker reported per-share profit of 11 cents. That's down 56% from the year-earlier quarter, but far above the 3-cent consensus estimate of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters.
Sales fell 26% to $7.14 billion, just above the $6.98 billion expected by analysts.
In a conference call with analysts, Otellini said the "global economy continues to be weak and uncertain" and "demand remains difficult to predict," but Intel's execution during the quarter "was outstanding."
For the second quarter in a row — and just the second time in 10 years — Intel didn't provide formal guidance for this quarter. (In January, when it gave fourth-quarter results, Intel said it expected first-quarter revenue "in the vicinity of $7 billion.")
I mentioned earlier that the Fed's mandate from the Congress is to foster price stability as well as maximum sustainable employment. The FOMC treats its obligation to ensure price stability extremely seriously. Price stability supports healthy economic growth, for example, by making it easier for households and businesses to plan for the future. In practice, price stability does not require that inflation be literally zero; indeed, although inflation can certainly be too high, it can also be too low. Experience suggests that inflation rates that are close to zero or even negative (corresponding to deflation, or falling prices) can at times be associated with poor economic performance. Cases in point include the United States in the 1930s and the more recent experience of Japan. In their latest quarterly projections of the economy, most members of the FOMC indicated that they would like to see an annual inflation rate of about 2 percent in the longer term. Right now, because of the weakness in economic conditions here and around the world, inflation has been running less than that, and our best forecast is that inflation will remain quite low for some time. Thus, the Fed's proactive policy approach is not at all inconsistent with the goal of price stability in the medium term.
Although inflation seems set to be low for a while, the time will come when the economy has begun to strengthen, financial markets are healing, and the demand for goods and services, which is currently very weak, begins to increase again. At that point, the liquidity that the Fed has put into the system could begin to pose an inflationary threat unless the FOMC acts to remove some of that liquidity and raise the federal funds rate. We have a number of effective tools that will allow us to drain excess liquidity and begin to raise rates at the appropriate time; that said, unwinding or scaling down some of our special lending programs will almost certainly have to be part of our strategy for reducing policy stimulus once the recovery is under way.
We are thinking carefully about these issues; indeed, they have occupied a significant portion of recent FOMC meetings. I can assure you that monetary policy makers are fully committed to acting as needed to withdraw on a timely basis the extraordinary support now being provided to the economy, and we are confident in our ability to do so. To be sure, decisions about when and how quickly to proceed will require a careful balancing of the risk of withdrawing support before the recovery is firmly established versus the risk of allowing inflation to rise above its preferred level in the medium term. However, this delicate balancing of risks is a challenge that central banks face in the early stages of every economic recovery. I believe that we are well equipped to make those judgments appropriately. In addition, when the time comes, our ability to clearly communicate our policy goals and our assessment of the outlook will be crucial to minimizing public uncertainty about our policy decisions.
The U.S. Census Bureau announced today that advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for March, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $344.4 billion, a decrease of 1.1 percent (±0.5%) from the previous month and 9.4 percent (±0.7%) below March 2008. Total sales for the January through March 2009 period were down 8.8 percent (±0.5%) from the same period a year ago. The January 2009 to February 2009 percent change was revised from -0.1 percent (±0.5%)* to +0.3 percent (±0.3%)*.
Retail trade sales were down 1.1 percent (±0.7%) from February 2009 and 10.7 percent (±0.7%) below last year. Gasoline stations sales were down 34.0 percent (±1.5%) from March 2008 and motor vehicle and parts dealers sales were down 23.5 percent (±2.3%) from last year.
The London interbank offered rate for three-month dollar loans is dropping at the fastest pace since January as bankers gain confidence that the worst of the financial crisis is over.
Debt strategists at Credit Suisse Group AG, Societe Generale SA and Royal Bank of Canada, three of the 16 banks that provide the data that sets Libor each day, say the declines will continue. Momentum may be building as signs of economic stability emerge, according to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke.
“Not so long ago the main worry was whether the bank you’re dealing with was going to be around in three months time,” said Ira Jersey, head of U.S. interest-rate strategy at RBC Capital Markets in New York. “Now that concern is on the back burner. We’re going to see Libor coming down steadily.”
Libor, the British Bankers’ Association interest rate that determines borrowing costs on about $360 trillion of financial agreements ranging from home mortgages to corporate bonds, fell to 1.12 percent today from 1.32 percent a month ago. The fastest drop since the start of the year, when the rate tumbled to 1.08 percent on Jan. 14 from 1.42 percent nine days earlier, coincides with President Barack Obama’s efforts to restore the economy and the banking system to health.
The information reviewed at the March 17-18 meeting indicated that economic activity had fallen sharply in recent months. The contraction was reflected in widespread declines in payroll employment and industrial production. Consumer spending appeared to remain at a low level after changing little, on balance, in recent months. The housing market weakened further, and nonresidential construction fell. Business spending on equipment and software continued to fall across a broad range of categories. Despite the cutbacks in production, inventory overhangs appeared to worsen in a number of areas. Both headline and core consumer prices edged up in January and February.