Feb 15, 2019

Axios Markets

By Dion Rabouin
Dion Rabouin

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Situational awareness:

  • U.S.-China trade talks wrapped up in Beijing and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin tweeted the meetings were "productive." Negotiations will continue next week in Washington, China’s Xi Jinping said. (Reuters)
  • The U.S. government and Facebook are negotiating a record, multibillion-dollar fine for the company’s privacy breaches. (Washington Post)
  • Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway raised its stake in JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America last quarter, and became a major shareholder in 4 of the 5 largest U.S. banks. Berkshire also trimmed its stake in Apple by 1%. (Bloomberg)
  • President Trump's plan to declare a national emergency to fund his border wall will be met with lawsuits, House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi said. It also will trigger votes in the House and Senate on the emergency declaration with some Republicans saying they may block it. (Bloomberg)
1 big thing: What's still missing

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The release of data over the past week that was delayed by the government shutdown has led to more questions than answers, Axios' Courtenay Brown reports.

Why it matters: Economists are still in the dark about how a variety of factors — including the stock market slump, the government shutdown and ongoing trade tensions with China — impacted the U.S. economy. However, economic indicators are moving to the downside, not the upside.

What we know: Thursday's release of the 4-week delayed U.S. retail sales report saw the biggest month-over-month drop since 2009. It was such a huge miss from the expected rise in spending that some economists are questioning the accuracy of the data.

  • "It appears that worries over the trade war and turmoil in the stock markets impacted consumer behavior more than we expected," the National Retail Federation said in a statement. "There's also a question of whether the government shutdown and resulting delay in collecting data might have made the results less reliable."

"This is against the backdrop of the only data we had, which was the blockbuster employment numbers," Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton, told CNBC.

  • December's 222,000 new jobs number was revised lower, but still remains above trend. Though, as we reported last month, jobs growth markdowns show the data may not be breaking out the way initial estimates suggest.

Key components that factor into measures of economic growth are still missing, leaving a gaping hole in economists' estimates for growth.

  • The health of business inventories in December remains unknown after contracting slightly in November, the Commerce Department said yesterday.
  • Factory orders in the U.S. fell more sharply than expected in November, but we still don't know whether that rebounded or fell further in December.
  • December trade data, also delayed, is not expected until the beginning of March.

The bottom line: The data we have so far is pointing to a sluggish end to 2018.

  • Jim O'Sullivan, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, tells Axios the lackluster retail sales data could shave as much as 0.7% off of economic growth in the 4th quarter.
  • Economists at J.P. Morgan downgraded their GDP forecast 60 basis points to 2.0% based on the latest retail sales figures, while Barclays slashed its growth forecast to 2.1% from 2.8%, Reuters notes.
Bonus chart: GDPNow drop
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Adapted from a Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta chart; Chart: Axios Visuals

The most dramatic example of data revision because of the weak retail sales print was the Atlanta Fed's GDPNow forecast. Notorious for its early often overly rosy expectations, it now predicts growth will be 1.5% versus the 2.7% it expected earlier this month.

  • The decline in the forecast of real GDP growth was the largest since Feb. 2, 2018, when the expectation for Q1 2018 real GDP growth declined from 5.4% to 4.0%, Atlanta Fed representatives tell Axios.
2. Talking trash

It's generated fewer headlines in recent years, but not that long ago the trash index was all the rage. The idea, popularized by economist Michael McDonough, posits that U.S. GDP growth is tightly correlated to the change in collection of trash.

  • More trash is good. It means people are throwing out old things to make way for new ones and that developers are building new things and disposing of the old, as McDonough explained to Marketplace in 2012.

According to Bloomberg, the index was incredibly accurate between 2001 and 2010, there was an 82.4% correlation between flow of trash and the economy.

Jim Fish, CEO of Waste Management, says that right now the trash is saying good things.

"I mean, we all know there's a recession coming at some point, we just don’t know when. And 2009 was a bit different than the normal recession because it was so driven by housing.
"And so, our business really on the housing side has not returned to where it was in 2009.
"But, when we look at the indicators that might lead us to believe that a recession is on the horizon, the best indicators for us are our volume numbers .... We tend to be more of a lagging indicator than a leading indicator. But, those tend to be somewhat leading. And all of those look strong right now and that carries over into January when we looked at our volume numbers ... the good news is right now we're not seeing that softening that's been talked about over the last few months."
— Jim Fish, CEO of Waste Management, on the company's earnings call Thursday

Waste Management on Thursday reported fourth-quarter profit of $531 million, with net income of $1.24 per share and revenue of $3.84 billion, topping Wall Street expectations.

3. Businesses need more climate change protection

While governments and corporations are starting to protect themselves from the impacts of climate change, Morgan Stanley says private businesses need to do more.

The investment bank's strategists are recommending companies strongly consider preparing for a world with more frequent and intense weather events, rising sea levels, changes to agriculture and the spread of infectious disease.

  • "We expect the physical risks of climate change to become an increasingly important part of the investment debate for 2019," Morgan Stanley equity strategists Mark Savino, Jessica Alsford and Victoria Irving said in a research note Wednesday.

The note also highlights a number of worrying statistics.

  • Climate disasters cost the world $650 billion over 3 years and Americans are bearing the brunt.
  • North America absorbed two-thirds of the global cost of climate disasters over the last 3 years.
  • At $415 billion, the price of the disasters is equal to 0.66% of North America's GDP.
  • Near-term disruptions and long-term structural changes present risks to many sectors of the economy.
4. Cutting off the public gravy train

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Amazon's Valentine's Day decision to break-up with New York before New York broke up with it looks to be the crescendo in a major sea change involving big companies and the municipalities they would like to call home.

  • As Axios' Erica Pandey reported this week, public outcry against spending taxpayer dollars to subsidize big companies is spreading.

Where the trend has been perhaps most pronounced and unexpectedly so recently has been in the NFL.

The Los Angeles Rams' new $5 billion mixed-use stadium facility will be privately funded, and include an entertainment complex as well as a skilled jobs and apprenticeship component where 30% of positions are dedicated to local residents.

  • That's in stark contrast to the Atlanta Falcons, who got roughly $700 million from taxpayers to build Mercedes Benz Stadium, and the Minnesota Vikings, who secured nearly $500 million of public fuding for U.S. Bank Stadium in deals signed earlier this decade.
  • Bonds used to finance professional sports stadiums cost U.S. taxpayers more than $3.7 billion between 2000 and 2014, a 2016 study by the Brookings Institution found.

The Oakland Raiders still haven't secured a location to play their home games next year, as politicians in Alameda County, Calif. have refused to let the Raiders play in the Oakland Coliseum after their lease expires.

The Washington football team was rebuffed earlier this week by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan who said he was stopping his pursuit of building a stadium, at least "at this time." Washington's owner, Daniel Snyder, has attempted to secure competing offers from Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia, much as Amazon did with its HQ2 search.

The bottom line: What may be most notable is the tech companies that have secured deals with cities for new buildings during the time Amazon has been mired in bad publicity for its fight over HQ2, Axios' Ina Fried notes.

Apple set up shop in Austin, pledging to invest $1 billion there.

It's also setting up new offices in Seattle, San Diego and the Los Angeles suburb of Culver City and expanding operations in Pittsburgh, New York, Boston, Portland, Oregon and Boulder, Colo.

  • Impact: No public search, minor tax breaks.

Google announced last year a major expansion in New York, spending $2.4 billion to acquire Chelsea Market and then, in December, announcing a further $1 billion investment.

The company announced it was spending $13 billion this year on data centers and offices throughout the U.S.

  • Impact: Lots of jobs in New York, no tax breaks.
5. 1 👟 thing
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Data: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios; h/t @LizAnnSonders

Watch out for rising shoe prices. The jump in shoe inflation in January was largely driven by men's shoes, which climbed 4.9% year-over-year and 2.8% month-over-month, even when seasonally adjusted.

Dion Rabouin

History: Pope Victor I was Bishop of Rome in the late second century, rising from what was then the Roman Province of Africa. He was a Berber, an ethnic group of native Africans from the northern portion of the continent, an area that includes present day Mali, Morocco, Niger and western Egypt.

Under Victor, Latin replaced Greek as the official language of the Roman church, and Victor himself wrote in Latin.

He was later declared a saint. His feast day is celebrated on July 28 as "Saint Victor I, Pope and Martyr."