Francisco Goya The straw mannequin 1791-92
No blackout, no market. Only deceit.
Shares fell today in part because Apple, the giant in the indices, gave iffy guidance for the holidays Thursday evening; and with product sales not going anywhere, and only price increases boosting revenues, it said it would no longer disclose unit sales. This combo worked like a charm, and shares dropped 6.6%. So where are the corporate share buybacks when you need them? This is when companies buy back their own shares in order to prop up their price and thereby the overall market. Where is this panacea that was considered securities fraud until 1982? Throughout October, Wall Street gurus promised that shares would rise as soon as companies emerged from their “blackout” period that prevents them from buying back their shares. Alas, there is no federally mandated “blackout” period.
[..] Let’s take a gander at International Business Machines [IBM], one of the biggest share buyback queens. Since 2000, it blew $146 billion on share buybacks. The chart below shows the cumulative amounts since 2013 that IBM wasted on share buybacks: $43 billion (data via YCharts):
Wall Street gurus keep hyping that share buybacks “unlock shareholder value,” or “return cash to shareholders,” or some such thing. But here’s what IBM’s share buybacks did to shareholder value, as measured by the stock price:
[..] IBM has been buying back the shares it issued its own executives as part of their stock compensation plans, and the shares it issued to buy other companies, including minuscule privately-owned startups for billions of dollars. Buybacks covered up the dilutive effects from those actions. IBM could have spent this money on research and invented something cool. But that would have been too hard. Far better to farm out much of the work to cheap countries like India, shut down US operations, waste money on share buybacks in a vain effort to manipulate up its shares, and instead watch them go to heck.
There are no functioning markets without price discovery, so what exactly is supported here? Deceit?
U.S. companies are ramping up share buybacks again, offering potential support to volatile markets. Share buybacks fell ahead of earnings season, when regulations bar such repurchases. As that so-called blackout period ends, there has been a resurgence, with companies making the most of last month’s selloff. That has eased analysts’ concerns that the year’s buyback boom is over. Net buybacks in the month totaled just $12 billion by Oct. 19, but jumped to $39 billion by Oct. 29, according to estimates from JPMorgan Chase & Co. That is more than the $30 billion recorded in September and just under the $48 billion recorded in August.
The bank’s estimates are based on the average drop in share count across the S&P 500, FTSE Russell1000, Datastream U.S. and MSCI U.S. indexes. Some analysts hope a resurgence in buybacks could help support share prices during a period of geopolitical and economic uncertainty. Others are skeptical that companies can continue purchasing their own shares at the current pace, particularly as the stream of repatriated cash that helped drive the year’s buybacks slows down. “It is possible that some companies saw the equity correction as an opportunity to buy back their stock” in October, said Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou, global-markets strategist at JPMorgan. “But this raises the hurdle for November.”
Great jobs numbers equals higher rates.
Mortgage rates had a bad week and an especially bad day following a much stronger-than-expected jobs report. The Employment Situation (the most important piece of labor market data and arguably the most important economic report as far as interest rates are concerned) showed the highest pace of wage growth since before the recession and a surprisingly robust addition of new jobs in October. Strong jobs data is the nemesis of low interest rates and today was no exception. Mortgage rates were already operating fairly close to long-term highs, but today’s move easily took them to new highs. The average lender is now quoting conventional 30yr fixed rates of 5% for relatively ideal scenarios.
Those without a big down payment or without perfect credit/income can expect to see even higher rates. Most lenders ended up recalling the morning’s initial rate sheets and reissuing higher rates at least once today. There’s really no silver lining apart from the fact that the higher rates go, and the quicker they get there, the closer we get to the point that the economy slows down as a result. When that happens, rates will begin to fall before just about anything else. Unfortunately, the expected time frame for such things is incredibly wide (not the sort of thing you hope for if you need to buy/refi). And yes… it’s also unfortunate that our one source of solace at the moment involves an economic downturn, but if you want low interest rates, that tends to come with the territory.
The wool over your eyes.
Theresa May has reportedly secured concessions from Brussels to keep the whole of the UK in a customs union in the wake of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. The agreement reached would prevent the need for Northern Ireland to be treated differently from the rest of the UK, a main stumbling block during Brexit negotiations. The “secret” deal would avoid the need for an Irish backstop and will be written into the legally-binding deal, according to The Sunday Times. However, Downing Street has poured cold water on the report, calling it speculation. The EU has reportedly suggested a backstop post-Brexit customs arrangement covering all of the UK could give mainland Britain some scope to set trade rules.
Preparations for a final deal were far more advanced than previously disclosed, the report said, and would lead to a document of 50 pages or more being published. The agreement would include an “exit clause” designed to convince Brexit-supporting MPs that remaining in the customs union was only temporary, The Sunday Times said. Ms May’s cabinet would meet on Tuesday to discuss her plan, and she hoped there would be enough progress by Friday for the EU to announce a special summit, the newspaper reported. The prime minister’s office has described the report as speculation, but claimed the majority of a deal on Britain’s exit from the bloc in March 2019 had been agreed.
“This is all speculation,” a spokesman for Ms May said. “The prime minister has been clear that we are making good progress on the future relationship and 95 percent of the withdrawal agreement is now settled and negotiations are ongoing.”
Peace in Ireland is the no.1 concern.
Brexit is “fraying” the relationship between the UK and Ireland and putting peace in Northern Ireland at risk, Irish premier Leo Varadkar has said. The Taoiseach said the Good Friday Agreement was being “undermined” by fractious relations between the two countries over how the Northern Irish border should be managed once Britain leaves the EU. It comes just a day after Theresa May’s de facto deputy, David Lidington, travelled to Dublin to hold talks with his Irish counterpart, Simon Coveney, in a bid to improve relations between the two governments.
But speaking within hours of the visit, Mr Varadkar described the relationship between the two countries as “fraying”. He told Irish broadcaster RTE: “Brexit has undermined the Good Friday Agreement and is fraying the relationship between Britain and Ireland. “Anything that pulls the communities apart in Northern Ireland undermines the Good Friday Agreement, and anything that pulls Britain and Ireland apart undermines that relationship.” The warning comes despite Mr Coveney having claimed a deal between the UK and the EU was “very close”.
Many sides will call for this.
More than 70 business leaders have signed a letter to the Sunday Times calling for a public vote on the UK’s Brexit deal. The chief executive of Waterstones and former Sainsbury’s boss Justin King are among those saying a “destructive hard Brexit” will damage the UK economy. A group called Business for a People’s Vote will launch on Thursday. A Downing Street source told the BBC the Prime Minister was clear that there would be no new referendum. The letter was coordinated by The People’s Vote campaign, which wants a ballot on whether to accept the terms of the UK’s departure from the EU. Richard Reed, co-founder of Innocent Drinks, Lord Myners, the former chairman of Marks and Spencer and Martha Lane Fox, the founder of Lastminute.com, also signed the letter.
It reads: “The business community was promised that, if the country voted to leave, there would continue to be frictionless trade with the EU and the certainty about future relations that we need to invest for the long term. “Despite the Prime Minister’s best efforts, the proposals being discussed by the government and the European Commission fall far short of this. “The uncertainty over the past two years has already led to a slump in investment.” The letter concludes: “We are now facing either a blindfold or a destructive hard Brexit. “Given that neither was on the ballot in 2016, we believe the ultimate choice should be handed back to the public with a People’s Vote.”
The only true Brezit reality. Merkel’s departure is a far bigger issue for Europe.
There is a weariness to the coterie of diplomats and officials based in Brussels intimately involved in the negotiations over the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European union. Privately they describe it as “Brexit fatigue”, the result of second-guessing a chaotic situation in Westminster for two years, and working through the summer in response to the demand from the Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab, for continuous negotiations. These officials from the 27 other EU member states were picked as the brightest and the best for the existential crisis of the time, but the hard truth for these ambitious men and women is that the crisis in question is no longer Brexit.
“You go to the capitals, you can see that, because no one talks about it any more,” said Fabian Zuleeg, chief executive of the leading EU thinktank, the European Policy Centre. Speaking to his parliament on his return to Madrid from the recent leaders’ summit in Brussels, Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, put it succinctly: “The British spend 24 hours a day thinking about Brexit and the Europeans think about it for four minutes every trimester.” While the UK’s chaotic withdrawal has become a dreary process to be managed, the EU is being dealt hammer blows from elsewhere – from crises that really could make or break the bloc, along with many diplomatic careers.
Foremost on the list of problem zones right now is Italy. “Nothing and nobody, no big or small letter will make us backtrack,” the country’s deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, and leader of the far-right League, told his followers in a Facebook video made in his office in Rome on Friday. “Italy will no longer be a slave and will no longer kneel down.”
Let’s build a few highways to nowhere too.
After decades of mind-boggling growth, home prices in metropolitan London, according to official numbers, started to fall this year, if barely. Between March and September, they slid 2.3%. But it’s a lot worse in the most expensive parts of the city: Prices in central London have already dropped 15% since 2014, according to James Hyman, head of the residential agency division at Cluttons. He expects another 7% drop over the next year and a half. And the total volume of transactions has fallen by a fifth, according to Residential Analysts. In 2014, a change in the stamp duty made buying high-end homes in the UK more costly. In London, the city that hosts the highest number of super-rich individuals per capita in the world, high-end homes are the staple product.
And it’s getting harder and harder to offload them: The Guardian reported that over half of the 1,900 ultra-luxury apartments built in London last year failed to sell. This freeze at the high end is fueling concerns that the city would be left with dozens of “posh ghost towers.” The newest phantom skyscraper is London’s Centre Point Tower, a 33-story office building from the 1960s that was recently converted into multi-million-pound luxury apartments. But demand is anemic and the developer behind the project, Almacantar, has all but given up trying to sell the flats after receiving too many “detached from reality” lowball offers. Until conditions improve, half of the tower’s 82 flats will lie empty.
Yet even as demand for upscale real estate in London fades, there’s little sign of any slow down in the construction of luxury apartments, meaning there will be an even greater glut of upscale real estate in the near future. That’s likely to further exacerbate the fall in prices. It’s the latest in a long line of reality checks for London. Clearly, those at the thin upper crust of the global wealth and income scale — just about the only people left who can afford to buy residential property in London these days — either have less money to spend on over-priced high-end London real estate or are splashing it elsewhere, including in other parts of the UK.
Russiagate is a non-story kept alive by papers and TV stations.
Even more damning evidence has come to light undermining The New York Times‘ assertion in September that Russia used social media to steal the 2016 election for Donald Trump. The Times‘ claim last month that Russian Facebook posts reached nearly as many Americans as actually voted in the 2016 election exaggerated the significance of those numbers by a factor of hundreds of millions, as revealed by further evidence from Facebook’s own Congressional testimony. Further research into an earlier Consortium News article shows that a relatively paltry 80,000 posts from the private Russian company Internet Research Agency (IRA) were engulfed in literally trillions of posts on Facebook over a two-year period before and after the 2016 vote.
That was supposed to have thrown the election, according to the paper of record. In its 10,000-word article on Sept. 20, the Times reported that 126 million out of 137 million American voters were exposed to social media posts on Facebook from IRA that somehow had a hand in delivering Trump the presidency. The newspaper said: “Even by the vertiginous standards of social media, the reach of their effort was impressive: 2,700 fake Facebook accounts, 80,000 posts, many of them elaborate images with catchy slogans, and an eventual audience of 126 million Americans on Facebook alone.” The paper argued that 126 million was “not far short of the 137 million people who would vote in the 2016 presidential election.”
But Consortium News, on Oct. 10, debunked that story, pointing out that reporters Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti failed to report several significant caveats and disclaimers from Facebook officers themselves, whose statements make the Times’ claim that Russian election propaganda “reached” 126 million Americans an exercise in misinformation. [..] only an estimated 29 million FB users may have gotten at least one story in their feed in two years. The 126 million figure is based only on an assumption that they shared it with others, according to Stretch. Facebook didn’t even claim most of those 80,000 IRA posts were election–related. It offered no data on what proportion of the feeds to those 29 million people were.
In addition, Facebook’s Vice President for News Feed, Adam Moseri, acknowledged in 2016 that FB subscribers actually read only about 10 percent of the stories Facebook puts in their News Feed every day. The means that very few of the IRA stories that actually make it into a subscriber’s news feed on any given day are actually read.
Completely insane. Next time it might be police, military, mercenaries. Julian’s supporters need to stand watch 24/7 now.
An attempted break-in at Julian Assange’s residence inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on Oct. 29, and the absence of a security detail, have increased fears about the safety of the WikiLeak’s publisher. Lawyers for Assange have confirmed to activist and journalist Suzie Dawson that Assange was awoken in the early morning hours by the break-in attempt. They confirmed to Dawson that the attempt was to enter a front window of the embassy. A booby-trap Assange had set up woke him, the lawyers said. Scaffolding has appeared against the embassy building in the Knightsbridge section in London which “obscures the embassy’s security cameras,” the lawyers said.
Scaffolding near balcony where Assange has appeared. (Sean O’Brien)
On the scaffolding electronic devices, presumably to conduct surveillance, can be seen, just feet from the embassy windows. Later on the day of the break-in, Sean O’Brien, a lecturer at Yale University Law School and a cyber-security expert, was able to enter the embassy through the front door, which was left open. Inside he found no security present. Someone from the embassy emerged to tell him to send an email to set up an appointment with Assange. After emailing the embassy, personnel inside refused to check whether it had been received or not. O’Brien then noticed more scaffolding being erected and observed the devices, which he photographed. Though a cyber-security expert, O’Brien said he could not identify what the devices are.
One of the apparent surveillance devices. (Sean O’Brien.)
“I’ve never seen devices quite like this, and I take photos of surveillance equipment often,” O’Brien said. “There were curious plastic tubes with yellow-orange caps, zip-tied to the front. I have no idea what these are but they seem to have equipment inside them.” The devices are pointed towards the embassy, where all the blinds were open, and not the street, he said. “The surveillance devices in the photos reveals no manufacturer branding, serial numbers or visible device information,” Dawson said. “The combination of the obscuring of the street-facing surveillance cameras and the installation of surveillance equipment pointed into instead of away from the Embassy, is alarming.”
[..] On Thursday the government suddenly barred all access to Assange visitors, including his legal team until next Monday, raising fears that no witnesses could be present should there be an attempt to abduct Assange over the weekend.