Stocks fell for the second straight day on what was April’s final trading day, though the averages closed well off their lows. The Dow and the S&P 500 ended with month with modest gains while the tech-heavy Nasdaq slipped.
First, the scoreboard:
- Dow: 17,776, -54, (-0.3%)
- S&P 500: 2,065, -10, (-0.5%)
- Nasdaq: 4,775, -30, (-0.6%)
- WTI crude oil: $45.98, -0.1%
It was a very busy week for the US economy and Friday capped the week with four headline data reports.
The latest report on income and spending was mixed, with this report’s big news coming from the “core” PCE measure, an alternate measure of inflation preferred by the Fed, that showed consumer prices rose 1.6% over the prior year in March. The Fed is targeting 2% inflation.
Also out Friday morning was the first quarter’s employment cost index — a more complete measure of worker compensation that includes both wages and benefits paid to workers. The ECI rose 0.6% in the first quarter, in-line with expectations and showing that meaningful increases in wages still remain elusive in the US economy. Compared to last year, the ECI was up just 1.9%.
“Wage growth is currently lower than it was five years ago and lower than in March 2015,” said BNP Paribas economist Laura Rosner following the report. “There has been essentially no progress [on wage growth] according to this preferred metric.”
The final reading of consumer confidence in April from the University of Michigan missed expectations, coming in at 89.0 against expectations for a reading of 90. Most of the drop in the report’s composite index was attributed to a decline in consumers’ expectations for the economy.
The MNI/ISM Chicago PMI report showed manufacturing activity in the Midwest expanded in April, but at a slower rate than the prior month.
Valeant finally released its annual report just in time to avoid a potential default of some of its debts. And this report was just full of goodies.
The embattled pharmaceutical company revealed that it’s facing investigations in four states — North Carolina, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and New York — while the ad hoc committee of its board found “material weaknesses” in its financial statements.
“These material weaknesses relate to the tone at the top of the organisation and the accounting and disclosure for non-standard revenue transactions particularly at or near quarter ends,” the company’s filing said, just in case you were unsure who got thrown under the bus here.
Elsewhere in Valeant news, the company also announced its five nominees that will stand for election to its board of directors while former-CEO-to-be Mike Pearson will step down from his board seat on Monday and not stand for re-election. But don’t worry: Pearson made $143.1 million last year.
But amid all of Friday’s hoopla about Valeant finally filing its annual report, Linette Lopez points us to the company’s patient assistance program as perhaps the most important disclosure in said report. These programs, in effect, enable Valeant to get certain drugs to its customers and recoup whatever insurance will cover.
These programs are what New York and Massachusetts officials want to know more about.
On Thursday afternoon, Amazon reported the most profitable quarter in its company’s history, earning $513 million in the quarter. The main driver? Amazon Web Services, its massive cloud business that grew 64% in the first quarter as revenues totaled $2.57 billion for this business.
On Friday, shares of Amazon jumped nearly 10%, which is good for Jeff Bezos, who is now about $6 billion richer on paper.
In a note to clients following the results, Mark Mahaney at RBC Capital Markets said, “Amazon is generating accelerating revenue growth & record high margins. And we believe these trends to be sustainable, because: a) Amazon’s two key end-markets (retail and cloud computing) are only 10% penetrated; b) the competitive moats around Amazon are getting deeper due in part to sheer scale; and c) Amazon’s execution is excellent.”
Mahaney added, “If Q4 was the correction buying Amazon quarter, then Q1 is the inflection buying Amazon quarter.”
So: he’s bullish; Mahaney now has an $800 price target on shares.
Julian Emanuel at UBS isn’t crazy about what’s happening in markets right now.
In a note to clients on Friday, Emanuel said that with the Federal Reserve’s first rate hike out of the way and indications that we’ll see more rate increases before this tightening cycle is over, the seeds have been sowed for the stock market’s run to end.
Two worrying things that stand out to Emanuel were the decline in merger activity in the first quarter of the year and the rotation into financial stocks from bond-like replacement stocks like consumer staples and utilities. Both of these trends were present as the market topped out in 2000 and 2007.
Jim Bianco, one of the most widely-followed contrarians on Wall Street, said in an interview that our new world of negative interest rates creates a situation in which no one — investors, savers, policy makers — knows what the impact of these new policies are. Which, in Bianco’s view, sets us up for a potential “accident.”
Bianco didn’t expand on what an accident might be, you can imagine: probably not good.
On the economy, Warren Buffett spoke in Omaha ahead of Saturday’s big Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting and was clear that not a whole lot going on inside the US economy right now excites him.
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