Let’s Give Her the Royal Treatment

Apr 20, 2018   //   by Bruce Mason   //   Weekly Market Update  //  No Comments

We may be heading into the end of the week on a sour note, but generally speaking it was a pretty good week.  Issues with Syria don’t seem to have escalated and there was surprisingly little new news regarding President Trump, his cabinet, or any of the various ongoing investigations.  Fortunately, earnings announcements are coming along well, in large part due to the tax reform enacted late last year.

I won’t dive into the details of earnings announcements because they tend to be about as fun as reading the telephone book.  My goal isn’t to put everyone to sleep.  Instead let’s focus on company news that is relatable and may have a more direct impact on our lives.

For starters, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week regarding the online sales tax.  The case delves into constitutional arguments over whether the high court should overturn precedent and require online retailers to pay state sales taxes.  As is often the case, Justice Anthony Kennedy is seen as the swing vote on whether to collect taxes on Internet sellers without a physical presence within the state’s borders.  Reuters is reporting that several justices would prefer if Congress passes a law that settles the issue, but that seems unlikely.  What is clear is that President Trump is onboard, if his recent Tweets regarding Amazon’s failure to collect state sales tax are any indication.

In other news, there’s a new “Buy American” campaign starting up, but it’s not the one you’re thinking of; A “Buy American” initiative for the weapons industry is being prepared.  No, not that the U.S. military should buy American weapons, but instead that foreign countries should buy weapons from American companies, i.e. Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, etc.  The initiative is aimed at allowing more countries to buy more and bigger weapons, and artillery, and everything in between.  An administration source is quoted as saying, “This policy seeks to mobilize the full resources of the United States government behind arms transfers that are in the U.S. national and economic security interest.”  Seems like a great opportunity for our defense contractors.

I mentioned last week that crude oil has pushed higher in recent weeks and the price of gasoline is at the highest level since 2015.  Doubling down on their argument, some analysts insist that the OPEC production cuts are to blame.  However, a new theory is materializing which suggests Saudi Arabia is to blame.  In a new report by Reuters, Saudi Arabia may seek to push crude oil prices to $80 or even $100 per barrel ahead of its planned IPO sale.  The country has been working on selling Aramco, which is currently a government owned company.  If it goes public, it is expected to become the world’s largest company with a market capitalization of between $2 trillion and $10 trillion.  So perhaps there is another agenda pushing the price of oil higher?  Either way, we can expect gas prices to climb as we head into summer.

In company news, Procter & Gamble announced it closed a deal to buy Merck’s Consumer Health Division for $4 billion.  This acquisition will add vitamins and supplements to the company’s over-the-counter medicine business according to the Wall Street Journal.  This division generates about $1 billion in annual sales from a portfolio of ten core brands including vitamins, supplements, women’s supplements, cod liver oil, and nasal decongestant.  Let’s hope this move works out for P&G.  In other news, General Motors has been playing hardball with South Korea.  It failed to reach an agreement with the union representing workers in South Korea and has threatened to file for bankruptcy.  In response, the South Korean government has offered $470 million to keep General Motors in the country but it is unclear if GM will accept the offer.

In closing, I learned this week that gender-neutral baby names are on the rise.  It seems names such as Royal, Charlie, Salem, Skyler, and Oakley are becoming increasingly popular among new parents.  The Social Security Administration puts out a top ten list of popular baby names every year based on its registrations, but also keeps track of names that are rising quickly.  Name-watchers said these neutral names haven’t overtaken the top spots but are more heavily represented, especially among millennial parents.  While there may be many reasons for the shift, some choose this path because of the hurdles women face across so many areas of life.  Names that skew a little masculine, or less feminine, are perceived as stronger.  In a few countries, unisex names are forbidden by law: Portugal, Denmark, and Iceland.  Now you know.

April 20, 2018

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