Some share buybacks programs are hurting investors & workers

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Between 2008 and 2017, 466 of the S&P 500 companies spent around $4 trillion on stock buybacks, equal to 53 percent of profits. The Trump tax cut of 2018, helped corporations to repurchased more than $1 trillion of their own stock, a staggering figure and the highest amount ever authorized in a single year.

Under a share buyback program, a company purchases a certain number of its own shares on the open market. Reducing the number of outstanding shares making the remaining shares worth more. One of the most obvious reasons for the growth of such programs is to help offset the effects of generous stock compensation packages for executives, including stock options and stock contributions to employees’ 401(k) programs.

In theory, management only repurchases stock if it expects to enhance shareholder value more that way than by using the cash for capital spending, acquisitions, product development or dividend distributions. In reality, it has helped poor management use financial engineering to artificially increase earnings and hopefully keep share prices from falling in value.

A very simple example below shows how financial engineering works. A corporation buybacks 50,000,000 shares at $20.00 each which increases earnings by $0.25 and reduces the price earnings ratio from 20 to 16 making the company more attractive to investors.

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General Electric is a perfect example of corporate mismanagement. From 2015 to 2017, they repurchased $40 billion dollars’ worth of shares at prices between $20 and $32 and their share price is now only $10.21, a total waste of shareholders’ money.

When corporations direct resources to buy back shares on this scale, they reduce their ability to reinvest profits more meaningfully in the company in terms of R&D, new equipment, higher wages, paid medical leave, retirement benefits and worker retraining.

It’s no coincidence that at the same time that corporate stock buybacks have reached record highs, the median wages of average workers have remained relatively stagnant. Far too many workers have watched corporate executives cash in on corporate stock buybacks while they get handed a pink slip.

Recently, Walmart announced plans to spend $20 billion on a share repurchase program while laying off thousands of workers and closing dozens of Sam’s Club stores. Using a fraction of that amount, the company could have raised hourly wages of every single Walmart employee to $15, according to an analysis by the Roosevelt Institute.

Walmart is not alone. Harley Davidson authorized a 15 million share stock-repurchase around the same time it announced it would close a plant in Kansas City, Mo. And Wells Fargo has spent billions on corporate stock buybacks while openly plotting to lay off thousands of workers in the coming years.

Senators:  Sanders-Schumer propose a bill to limit buybacks

Their  bill would prohibit a corporation from buying back its own stock unless it invests in workers and communities first, including things like paying all workers at least $15 an hour, providing seven days of paid sick leave, and offering decent pensions and more reliable health benefits.

They point out:

The past two years have been extremely disappointing for millions of workers. President Trump promised the typical American household a $4,000 pay raise as he pushed for his tax giveaway to the rich. The reality, however, is that from December 2017 to December 2018, real wages for average workers have gone up by just $9.11 a week. Why should a company whose pension program is underfunded be able to buy back stock before shoring up the pension fund?

Stock buybacks don’t benefit the vast majority of Americans because large stockholders tend to be wealthier. Nearly 85 percent of all stocks owned by Americans belong to the wealthiest 10 percent of households. So when a company buys back its stock, boosting its value, the benefits go overwhelmingly to shareholders and executives, not workers.

What do you think? Should government limit share buybacks?

 

 

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Making a new budget despite a failing budget in 2018

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You would think that a former financial planner could put together an accurate budget. Unfortunately, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. (This saying is in “To a Mouse” by Robert Burns)

No matter how careful I am in planning a budget, something may still go wrong. My central air conditioner failed last year even though it wasn’t that old. Plus, I didn’t realize that the life cycle of my stand up freezer is only 10 years and that hearing aids need to be replaced every 4 to 5 years. Replacing all these items was not in my budget and very expensive.

However, my emergency fund did cover other unexpected break downs like having to replace my old treadmill, workout television and to buy a new refrigerator. Needless to say, 2018 was a year of unforeseen expenses.

Projecting my retirement income for 2018 also missed it mark. Some of my Canadian dividend stocks cut their dividends which not only reduced their payouts but caused their share value to drop.

I offset some of my lost income by doing some tax loss selling which will generate an income tax refund in 2019. Plus my new hearing aids are tax-deductible which makes their purchase a little less painful.

Some tips to avoid budget failure

  1. Don’t guess, there are plenty of ways to track your spending. (Internet banking, credit card statements, mobile apps just to name a few.

  2. Don’t forget to include birthday, weddings and Christmas gifts in your budget. You can rack up credit card debt by unplanned gift giving, especially during the holidays.

  3. Have a realistic emergency fund. Too many people live paycheck to paycheck. For example; the U.S. government shutdown is not only hurting government employees but contract workers who won’t get any back pay. One solution if you have trouble saving is a low-interest personal line of credit which is better than using your credit card for emergencies. 

  4. Your budget should be flexible, it isn’t written in stone. It isn’t something to keep you from spending moneyA budget is a tool to provide you with information to manage your finances. It can help find money that you can spend where it will give you the most enjoyment.

  5.  Think of a budget as a money road map. Sometimes you will come across bad weather, road closures and construction detours. Don’t give up if your budget doesn’t work out the way you planned.

It’s always a shame when you work hard and don’t get any benefit from the money that you have earned. Get in the habit of making a budget every year. Life is too short to live paycheck to paycheck.

Santa Claus rally, No, No, No?

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Is there any hope for a Santa Claus rally this year? What are the chances the markets could reverse the worst December since 1931?

A Santa Claus rally, which would begin on Monday, is a very specific event. It is the tendency for the market to rise in the last five trading days of the year and the first two of the New Year. According to the Stock Trader’s Almanac, it is good for an average gain of 1.3% in the S&P since 1950.

What caused the Dow Jones Industrial Average to have its worst week since the financial crisis in 2008, down nearly 7 percent and cause the Nasdaq to close down into bear market territory?

  1. The Federal Reserve’s rate hike on Wednesday drove the losses this week and investors were hoping for a more dovish tone regarding future rate hikes. Despite the fact that Chairman Powell reduced the projected number rate hikes from three to two and reduced the neutral rate to 2.8% from 3%.
  2. In my humble opinion, President Trump is partly to blame for the severity of the losses this week due to his criticism of the Fed.  He backed Powell into a corner and forced him to show that the Fed is an independent institution. (the Fed could have put more emphasis on being data dependent) According to some reports, Trump has also discussed firing Powell privately because of his frustration with stock market losses in recent months.
  3. In an extensive interview at the White House on Thursday, Trump’s trade adviser, Peter Navarro said that it would be “difficult” for the U.S. and China to arrive at an agreement after the 90-day period of talks unless Beijing was prepared for a full overhaul of its trade and industrial practices.
  4. Political chaos in Washington with partial government shutdown, sudden withdrawal of troops out of Syria and the resignation of Defensive Secretary Mattis.

Investors are still worried about:

  • A slowdown in economic growth as more companies scale back their sales growth and profit outlook for 2019
  • Fear that a flat yield curve will invert if the Fed continues to hike short-term interest rates
  • The unwinding of the Fed’s balance sheet will reduce the availability of credit for corporations
  • The trade war with China will escalate causing more inflation
  • More economists are jumping on the recession bandwagon for 2020
  • Political chaos in Washington will get even worse when the Democrats take power in January

A dead cat bounce is a possibility in January

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dead cat bounce is a small short-lived recovery from a prolonged decline or a bear market that is followed by the continuation of the down turn. You need nerves of steel to trade a dead cat bounce but for long-term investors it could be a good time to reduce market risk and re-balance your portfolio.

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Blame Yellen and Trump for rapid raising U.S. interest rates

  

I believe that the former head of the Federal Reserve, Janet Yellen, is partly responsible for rapid raising U.S. interest rates. Although, GDP growth wasn’t overheating during her term, she could have started to unwind the Fed’s balance sheet which had 4 trillion dollars’ worth of treasuries. Instead she bought more treasuries after they matured and expanded the balance sheet by buying more treasuries with the interest earned.

This kept long term interest rate extremely low and allowed corporations to borrow money at low rates to buy back their shares. The Fed’s lack of action has help fuel the longest bull market in history.

Sorry Trump supporters but your man is also to blame. His policies are inflationary!

  1. The trump’s administration decision to pull out of the Iran deal has cause oil prices to rise. One million barrels of oil a day is being taken off the market.
  2. Trump’s tariff war with China and other trading partners will force corporations to increase prices because their costs are going up. Costs could go up even higher if Trump increases tariffs on imports from China from 10% to 25% in January 2019
  3. The corporate tax cuts and government spending has juiced the economy causing unemployment to fall to the lowest level in nearly fifty years sparking fears of raising wage growth.

The Trump’s administration spin that the tax cuts will pay for themselves is simply not true. Both the Reagan and Bush tax cuts added to the fiscal deficit.

The new Fed chairman, Jerome Powell has a difficult job of unwinding the Fed’s balance sheet by buying less treasuries just as the federal government is issuing more debt to cover the Trump’s tax cuts. Trump will add another trillion dollars to the deficit. More supply of treasuries plus less buyers equals raising interest rates.

Trump blaming Powell for the massive drop in the stock market last week is ridiculous. No one knows for sure what caused investors to hit the sell button. Was it fear of raising interest rates, a forecast of slower global growth by the IMF, fear of an escalating trade war with China or fear of runaway inflation.

My guess is all or none of the above. Maybe the stock market was just due for a correction.

 

 

 

 

Why Trump’s zero tariffs & zero subsides is a pipe dream

Trump campaigned on getting better trading deals starting with the renegotiation of NAFTA.  The loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs is the main reason that the Trump administration has criticized NAFTA and other trade deals. According to the CFR, the U.S. auto sector lost roughly 350,000 jobs between 1994 and 2016. Many of those jobs were taken up by workers in Mexico, where the auto sector added over 400,000 jobs in the same period.

A few reasons why zero tariffs alone don’t work

  • Labour intensive manufacturing will tend to locate where employee wages and benefits are the lowest.
  • Local and federal tax rates are another factor when it comes to plant locations.
  • Input costs like regulations, transportation and power rates are just a few examples of factors in plant location considerations.
  • It makes economic sense to locate near the biggest market for the product or service.

Bottom line, can the Trump administration force China and Mexico to pay $25.00 a hour to assemble cars? Are American consumers willing to pay an extra $1,400 to $7,000 for a new car if Trump imposes 25% tariff on the auto sector? How about $3,000 for a new I-phone that is made in America?

For argument sake, I do believe that reducing tariffs among developed countries does make sense. However, the other problem is fluctuations  in currencies which governments in general have little or no control over. For example, only yesterday, President Trump doubled the tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum because of the drastic fall in value of the Turkish lira.

The hard fact is zero tariffs are not feasible and corporations are not patriotic. Corporate executives are more concern about keeping their shareholders happy and ensuring a very generous executive compensation package. Wage growth in the U.S. has been stagnant for many years and there are no signs that the corporate tax cuts have trickled down to employee wages.

Is eliminating government subsides even possible?

My short answer is no. The great recession of 2008-09 would have turned into another great depression if governments’ world-wide didn’t bail out their troubled banks. How many jobs would have been lost in the auto sector if the U.S. government didn’t bail out Chrysler and GM? (Does too big to fail, sound familiar)

Severe weather conditions make it difficult for governments to get rid of agricultural subsidies. Plus, governments can use subsidies to ensure that farmers produce the right amount of crops or meat to serve their population. There is also a safety issue and a cost benefit to using your own food sources rather than relying on importing food from other countries.

I could go on and on with other examples of industries that require some form of government help. Not all subsides are bad. Think about the millions of people who use public transportation. How expensive would it be, if it wasn’t subsidized by government?

All comments are welcome!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trump criticized the Federal Reserve’s interest-rate increases, it’s the economy, stupid

President Trump blasts the Federal Reserve’s interest-rate increases last week, breaking with more than two decades of White House tradition of avoiding comments on monetary policy out of respect for the independence of the U.S. central bank.

The Fed has raised interest rates five times since Trump took office in January 2017, with two of those coming this year under Chairman Jerome Powell, the president’s pick to replace Janet Yellen.

“I am not happy about it. But at the same time I’m letting them do what they feel is best,” Trump said. In the interview, Trump called Powell a “very good man.”

Since 1977, the Federal Reserve has operated under a mandate from Congress to “promote effectively the goals of maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long term interest rates”, what is now commonly referred to as the Fed’s “dual mandate.”

The GOP’s tax cuts put the petal to the metal in an already accelerating U.S. economy. The unemployment rate which was heading lower got some extra juice. A 4 percent unemployment rate is very close to the Fed’s goal of maximum employment. However, wage inflation hasn’t show up yet as corporations are increasing dividends and buying back shares instead of increasing employee wages. (So much for trickle-down economics)

The real threat to the U.S. economy is inflation which has started to rear its ugly head due to a rebound in oil prices. The Fed is concern that the Trump administration’s use of tariffs to get better trading deals from all its trading partners will eventually lead to higher inflation. The Federal Reserve can let inflation run a little hotter temporally but it may be forced to accelerate interest rate increases.

Powell addressed Congress last week and told lawmakers that “for now — the best way forward is to keep gradually raising the federal funds rate.” Fed officials have penciled in two more hikes this year. That is one more rate hike then when Yellen was heading the Fed.

The probability that investors assigned to a Fed rate hike in September was little changed near 90 percent after the president’s remarks, while the probability of a December hike was also holding near 65 percent, according to trading in federal funds futures.

Will tariffs clause more inflation and or job loses?

The impact of tariffs takes time to make its way through the economy. Corporations will try to pass on higher input costs to their customers. Higher prices could lead to a decease in sales, causing corporations to cut costs by reducing their work force.

In my humble opinion, it all depends on the amount of the tariff. A 10 percent tariff will add to inflation but a 25 percent tariff will clause job loses.

Case in point, American farmers are feeling the pain of increase tariffs levied by U.S.  trading partners.

Trade conflicts “are having a real and costly impact on the rural economy and the ability of rural businesses to keep their doors open,” said Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat, asking Trump to develop a farm plan. “Without prompt action, we could lose farmers and the rural businesses they support and depend on at an even more rapid rate.”

The Trump administration announced that it will deliver US$12 billion in aid to farmers who’ve been hit by dropping prices for crops and livestock amid a burgeoning trade war in which agriculture is a main target for retaliation against U.S. tariffs.

I am confused, Trump wants U.S. trading partners to eliminate all tariffs and subsidies. Yet, he is threatening more tariffs and providing more subsidies.