US FINANCIAL MARKET
Stocks Open Lower After Dow, S&P Records – Wall Street Journal, 8/16/2021
- U.S. stocks opened lower Monday and oil prices fell after data showed a slowdown in China’s economy.
- Stocks have ground higher in thin summer trading, buoyed by a bumper set of quarterly earnings reports from American companies.
- However, investors remain wary of the dampening effect of the Delta variant of Covid-19 on business activity, and potential pitfalls including geopolitical uncertainty and a possible end to the Federal Reserve’s asset-purchase program by mid-2022.
- The highly infectious variant has taken a toll on the economic recovery in China, where data published Monday showed growth in industrial, consumer and investment activity slowed in July.
- In the bond market, the yield on 10-year Treasury notes fell to 1.284% from 1.297% Friday.
- Brent-crude futures, the benchmark in international energy markets, fell 2.6% to $68.73 a barrel.
- Futures for copper, a bellwether for the global economy because of its use in construction and manufacturing, lost 1.6% to $4.32 a pound.
- In overseas markets, the Stoxx Europe 600 slipped 0.6%.
- China’s Shanghai Composite Index ticked up less than 0.1% by the close while Japan’s Nikkei 225 fell 1.6%.
Oil Prices Fall as Traders Fear Chinese Economic Slowdown – Wall Street Journal, 8/16/2021
- U.S. crude prices slid 2.9% to $66.43 a barrel, dropping to around their lowest levels since late May and about 12% below last month’s multiyear high.
- Indicators of industrial, consumption and investment activity all showed growth retreating faster than expected and decelerating from June’s yearly growth rates.
- The data are a concern for commodity traders because China is the world’s largest importer of oil and a huge consumer of other raw materials such as copper.
- Brent crude, the global gauge of oil prices, were down 2.5% at $68.84 a barrel on Monday.
- In another sign of mounting concerns about the world economy, most actively traded copper futures slid 1.1% to $4.34 a pound.
- The industrial metal that is used to build everything from apartment buildings to electric vehicles is well below its record from earlier this year.
Fed Officials Weigh Ending Asset Purchases by Mid-2022 – Wall Street Journal, 8/16/2021
- Federal Reserve officials are nearing agreement to begin scaling back their easy money policies in about three months if the economic recovery continues, with some pushing to end their asset-purchase program by the middle of next year.
- The central bank last December said it would continue the current pace of bond purchases until officials concluded they had achieved “substantial further progress” toward their goals of 2% average inflation and robust employment.
- A recent run of strong hiring reports has strengthened the case for the Fed to announce at its next meeting, Sept. 21-22, its intentions to start tapering, potentially as soon as its following meeting in November.
- Some other officials have argued for more patience. Fed governor Lael Brainard indicated last month she wanted to see September hiring data, which won’t be available until early October, before deciding.
- Fed officials have yet to decide whether to reduce their purchases of Treasurys and mortgage-backed securities at the same pace.
- St. Louis Fed President James Bullard said he wants to start paring assets in October and conclude the program by March, reducing the purchases of Treasurys by $20 billion a month and mortgage bonds by $10 billion a month.
Tesla’s Autopilot System to Be Probed by U.S. Auto Safety Regulator – Wall Street Journal, 8/16/2021
- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in a document made public Monday that it had identified 11 crashes since early 2018 in which a Tesla vehicle that had been using the company’s driver-assistance system struck one or more vehicles involved in an emergency-response situation.
- NHTSA is studying the Autopilot system in some 765,000 Tesla vehicles from the 2014 through 2021 model years.
- Tesla has long said that driving with Autopilot engaged is safer than doing so without it.
- The company recently recalled more than 285,000 vehicles in China to address a cruise control-related safety issue.
- Most of the vehicles affected by the recall were made at Tesla’s factory in Shanghai, and the software fix could be completed remotely.
- In the U.S., Tesla agreed early this year to recall roughly 135,000 Model S luxury sedans and Model X sport-utility vehicles over touch-screen failures.
Companies Are Hoarding Record Cash Amid Delta Fears – Wall Street Journal, 8/16/2021
- Cash and short-term investments on corporate balance sheets globally are at an all-time high of $6.84 trillion, according to data from S&P Global, extrapolated from second-quarter earnings reports.
- That is 45% higher than the average in the five years preceding the pandemic and a 2.6% increase from the previous quarter.
- Companies have enjoyed one of the strongest economic rebounds in history, driven by a powerful combination of fiscal and monetary stimulus.
- Cruise-line operator Carnival has been gradually bringing some of its ships back into service after the pandemic effectively shut down its operations. It has 23 of its ships in operation out of 91.
- But it currently has around $9 billion of cash, compared with its usual balance of around $2 billion to $2.5 billion before the pandemic.
- United Airlines had $23 billion of liquidity at the end of the second quarter, more than quadruple the same period of 2019 and up $3.3 billion over the six months through June.
- Delta Air Lines added $1.6 billion to its cash pile in the most recent quarter for a total of $17.8 billion of liquidity. It had $3 billion of cash at the same point of 2019.
- Regulators encouraged companies last year to preserve cash by canceling dividends and share-buyback programs while business was disrupted.
- Businesses also have recently ramped up requests for credit lines, adding to their liquidity positions. Bankers expect this may lead to an uptick in spending in the coming months.
Hyatt Plans to Buy Apple Leisure Group From KKR and KSL Capital for $2.7 Billion – Wall Street Journal, 8/15/2021
- The transaction is the latest sign of optimism about a return to vacation travel even as the U.S. economy continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic.
- For Chicago-based Hyatt, one of the world’s biggest hospitality companies, the deal would bolster its already considerable resort-management portfolio and give it one of the biggest U.S. providers of charter flights and vacation packages for travel to Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and the Caribbean.
- Apple Leisure, whose predecessor company was founded in 1969, manages the Secrets, Dreams and Breathless Resorts & Spa chains and sells vacation packages under the CheapCaribbean.com and Apple Vacations brands, among others.
- It also offers airport transfer, tours and excursions and corporate-event planning at a variety of destinations including Mexico and the Caribbean.
US ECONOMY & POLITICS
Biden administration confirms it will boost food stamps by record amount – Reuters, 8/15/2021
- The U.S. Agriculture Department (USDA) on Monday will announce revised nutrition standards dramatically boosting average food stamp benefits, the agency confirmed on Sunday.
- Under the new rules, average monthly benefits, $121 per person before the pandemic, will rise by $36 starting in October.
- At the same time, a temporary 15% increase in benefits as part of pandemic relief is set to expire Sept. 30.
- The $3.5 billion boost approved earlier this year provides about $27 more per person, per month, or over $100 more a month for a household of four, in additional food stamp benefits.
- The new plan would raise the $79 billion annual program’s costs by about $20 billion versus pre-pandemic levels.
- The USDA said in 2019 that about 11% of the U.S. population was covered by the program.
Pelosi, Moderate Democrats Stuck Over Infrastructure Bill Timing – Bloomberg, 8/16/2021
- Pelosi’s proposal, in a letter to rank-and-file Democrats, involves allowing a procedural vote next week on the $550 billion infrastructure bill to mollify their demands, as well as an already planned vote to advance the more expansive Senate budget framework.
- Pelosi’s offer fell short of satisfying the group of at least nine moderates who have been threatening to unravel plans for moving President Joe Biden’s agenda through Congress.
- House Democrats scheduled a caucus call for Tuesday at noon as they seek to resolve differences over the path forward and the sequencing of Biden’s two-track approach.
- With the narrow House Democratic majority, Pelosi can’t lose more than three votes from her party against anticipated Republican opposition.
- The nine moderates include Rep Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, Representatives Filemon Vela, Henry Cuellar and Vincente Gonzalez of Texas; Kurt Schrader of Oregon; Carolyn Bourdeaux of Georgia; Jared Golden of Maine; Jim Costa of California and Ed Case of Hawaii.
Children hospitalized with COVID-19 in U.S. hits record number – Reuters, 8/14/2021
- The number of children hospitalized with COVID-19 in the United States hit a record high of just over 1,900 on Saturday, as hospitals across the South were stretched to capacity fighting outbreaks caused by the highly transmissible Delta variant.
- Children currently make up about 2.4% of the nation’s COVID-19 hospitalizations.
- Kids under 12 are not eligible to receive the vaccine, leaving them more vulnerable to infection from the new, highly transmissible variant.
- The numbers of newly hospitalized COVID-19 patients aged 18-29, 30-39 and 40-49 also hit record highs this week, according to data from the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- A fifth of the nation’s COVID-19 hospitalizations are in Florida, where the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients hit a record 16,100 on Saturday, according to a Reuters tally.
- More than 90% of the state’s intensive care beds are filled, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services.
- The nation’s largest teachers union, the National Education Association, came out in support of mandatory vaccination for its members this week.
- NEA President Becky Pringle said on Saturday that schools should employ every mitigation strategy, from vaccines to masks, to ensure that students can come back to their classrooms safely this school year.
Higher inflation target could trigger jobs boom, former Fed staffers say – Reuters, 8/16/2021
- David Wilcox, a former Fed research director, and David Reifschneider, a special adviser to former Fed Chair Janet Yellen, argue in a new research paper that once the coronavirus pandemic passes and the Fed is able to raise interest rates to more normal levels, it should then increase the national inflation target from 2% to 3% and use a shock treatment of surprise rate cuts to hit it.
- The risks – of financial bubbles due to loose credit or a possible recession triggered by rate hikes to combat a spike in inflation – are manageable, the two contend, and worth what they say would be “a marked boom in employment and output during the transition period.”
- The 2% benchmark was set at a time when global interest rates were drifting lower for a variety of reasons, leaving the Fed’s benchmark overnight interest rate closer to the “zero lower bound.”
- They note that the Fed’s new framework promised a review after five years, a point at which, the two argue, “the current surge of inflation will have long since subsided, and the unemployment rate will already be a little below its sustainable level,” and able to be lowered further by another policy shift.
EUROPE & WORLD
Violence Erupts at Kabul Airport as Afghans Try to Flee Taliban – Wall Street Journal, 8/16/2021
- Chaotic scenes at Kabul’s international airport turned deadly Monday as thousands of Afghans scrambled in the hope of catching an evacuation flight after the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan.
- U.S. troops shot and killed two armed men at Kabul’s international airport, according to a U.S. official.
- The official also said at least three Afghans clinging to the side of an Air Force jet evacuating personnel from the airport were run over and killed.
- The U.S. military took over security of the airport to facilitate a massive airlift of foreign diplomats and citizens after the Afghan government collapsed on Sunday.
- Thousands of desperate Afghans—many of whom used to work for American forces—flocked to the airport as the victorious Taliban combed Kabul for those who had collaborated with the West.
- The Taliban entered Kabul on Sunday after President Ashraf Ghani left the country, effectively marking the end of a 20-year effort by the U.S. and other Western nations to remold Afghanistan into a modern democracy, only to see its armed forces collapse as American forces withdrew.
Malaysian PM Muhyiddin resigns as political crisis escalates – Reuters, 8/16/2021
- Muhyiddin Yassin’s resignation ends a tumultuous 17 months in office, the shortest stint of a Malaysian leader, but hampers efforts to reboot a pandemic-stricken economy and curb a resurgence of COVID-19 infections.
- Muhyiddin said he resigned along with his cabinet after losing majority support in parliament.
- It was not immediately clear who could form the next government, as no lawmaker has a clear majority in parliament.
- The top contenders to be prime minister include Muhyiddin’s deputy Ismail Sabri Yaakob, veteran lawmaker Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah and former foreign minister Hishammuddin Hussein, all from UMNO.
Aramco Is in Advanced Talks on Up to $25 Billion Reliance Deal – Bloomberg, 8/16/2021
- Saudi Aramco is in advanced talks for an all-stock deal to acquire a stake in Reliance Industries’ oil refining and chemicals business.
- The Saudi Arabian firm is discussing the purchase of a roughly 20% stake in the Reliance unit for about $20 billion to $25 billion-worth of Aramco shares.
- A deal would forge a closer alliance between the world’s biggest oil exporter and one of the fastest-growing consumers.
- It would seal more than two years of negotiations and mark Aramco’s first all-stock deal since its initial public offering in 2019.
- Based on Aramco’s market valuation of about $1.9 trillion, a transaction would give Reliance a stake of around 1%.
- The transaction would help Aramco reach its goal of more than doubling refining capacity to between 8 million and 10 million barrels of crude a day.
Haiti Earthquake Death Toll Rises to More Than 1,200 – Wall Street Journal, 8/15/2021
- At least 1,297 people were killed and some 5,700 injured in a devastating earthquake that struck Haiti this weekend, aggravating the crisis of an increasingly chaotic country whose president was assassinated last month and where a coming tropical storm threatens even more devastation.
- Most of the fatalities from Saturday’s 7.2 magnitude quake occurred in the country’s southern peninsula, said Jerry Chandler, head of Haiti’s civil-protection agency.
- More than 13,000 buildings in the area were destroyed, including churches, hospitals and at least two hotels.
- The U.S. Agency for International Development deployed a 65-person team at the request of Haiti’s government to assist in urban search-and-rescue operations.
- The original Siamese twins, Eng and Chang, arrived in Boston. (1829)
- Cyprus, the third-largest island in the Mediterranean, became an independent republic. (1960)
- Algeria was admitted to the Arab League. (1962)
- Elvis Presley died at Graceland, his Memphis, Tenn., home, from heart failure at age 42. (1977)