Could the Fed stop raising interest rates at a mere 2.5%? That seemed to be the market’s interpretation of Fed Chairman Jerome Powell’s comments yesterday. The Fed passed on making another rate hike, and pledged “future moves will be done patiently and with an eye toward how economic conditions unfold.” The stock market soared in response. Could the tightening cycle, traders wondered, be at an end?
For those whose adult life extends back more than a decade, this is a shocking possibility. I began my career in the days when the fed funds rate hit 20%. In the late 1980s, it topped out just short of 10%. At the end of the 1990s, it peaked at 6.5%. Even many millennials can remember June of 2006, when the Fed’s rate hit 5.25. The suggestion that 2.5% will be this cycle’s top is staggering.
Former Fed Chair Janet Yellen was in Davos last week, and suggested—as she has on previous occasions—that we may have entered a new era of persistently low rates. If so, that is good news for debtors—including the federal government, which has a massive debt load. It’s bad news for most retirees, who need to live off the interest on their savings. And it could continue to inflate asset values….which is why the market roared ahead yesterday.
But count me as one who worries we’ve yet to see the dark underside of persistent cheap money. I suspect some black swans are circling.
More news below.
Facebook, which seems impervious to damage from its many scandals, has recorded record profits and growing user numbers, sending its stock up by more than 11%. It had 1.52 billion daily active users in the further quarter of 2018. Analysts expected $16.4 billion in revenue and got $16.9 billion; earnings per share were $2.38 rather than $2.19. Fortune
Tesla’s shares are falling after the company’s chief financial officer, Deepak Ahuja, headed for the door. The company also missed analyst expectations for late 2018. This is Ahuja’s second departure—he quit in 2015, then came back in 2017. Now he’s retiring for good, apparently. The new CFO is erstwhile finance VP Zach Kirkhorn, who inspiringly says Tesla has “enough cash to start new programs and develop new technologies.” CNBC
Brexit hasn’t even happened yet, and its effect on the British car industry has already been catastrophic. Investment fell by half last year and production fell by over 9%. Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT): “With fewer than 60 days before we leave the EU and the risk of crashing out without a deal looking increasingly real, U.K. Automotive is on red alert. Brexit uncertainty has already done enormous damage to output, investment and jobs.” Fortune
It wasn’t just Facebook abusing the ability to upload in-house apps to Apple’s iOS platform (a fact that yesterday forced them to withdraw an app that paid people for deep access to their phones)—turns out Google was also at it. Google’s app was called Screenwise Meter, and it yanked it after TechCrunch reported its existence. Will Apple block Google from installing apps in this fashion, as it did Facebook? TechCrunch
Around the Water Cooler
Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank may merge by the middle of the year, Bloomberg is reporting. The German government has been looking at a merger of the two for a while, as neither is doing great on its own, and now Deutsche Bank’s top brass are apparently bracing themselves, barring a sudden improvement in Q1. Bloomberg
Royal Dutch Shell earned $5.69 billion in Q4 2018, beating estimates of around $5.39 billion. The figure in the same quarter of 2017 was $4.3 billion. Meanwhile, Unilever’s Q4 sales fell below analyst expectations—they rose 2.9% rather than 3.5%, with Argentinian hyper-inflation apparently to blame. But full-year profits were up 51%. Reuters
Chinese factory activity was down again in January. That’s two consecutive months of contraction now, per the official Purchasing Managers Index (PMI)—although January’s figures were marginally better than December’s. BBC
Nike already had self-lacing shoes, and now Puma is getting in on the act. So get ready for the ability to tighten or loosen your laces via smartphone app—and for charging your shoes every week—if that’s the kind of thing that you’re into. CNBC