Trump’s Commerce Sec’y Gets Delisted; Valeant Unvaliant with Female Viagra; Rainbows and Unicorns: Oprah’s Effect on Weight Watchers

Oops, I did it again…


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Looks like things are getting awkward for Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross Jr. Turns out Trump’s buddy has some Russian connections that might just put him in a bit of a pickle. It goes a little something like this: The Commerce Secretary has some investments in a shipping firm he used to run called Navigator Holdings. The problem here is that this particular shipping firm has ties to some people that are subject to U.S. sanctions. One of those ties is none other than Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law.  Mr. Ross knew that he was supposed to unload all kinds of holdings that could potentially be a conflict of interest once he took office. And he did. Mostly. Just not really with this one. To be fair, Mr. Ross has a lot of partnerships and it’s those partnerships that retain a significant stake in Navigator Holdings. But still. It’s a problem, even if there’s nothing necessarily illegal about his ties to this shipping firm since he didn’t disclose those ties in the first place. This new development, along with tons of other juicy information, came courtesy of the leaked documents known as the “Paradise Papers” from the Bermuda-based law firm, Appleby. As for Mr. Ross, that’s not the only reason he’s been making headlines today. Apparently, on those very disclosure forms, where Mr. Ross neglected to mention his dubious Russian ties, he also neglected to mention that he isn’t a billionaire. Not to say that he’s a pauper. Far from it. However, his estimated assets are less than $700 million, not the $2 billion he said he’s worth. Even worse, for Ross’s ego anyway, is that he’s getting dropped from Forbes 400 wealthiest list, because let’s face it, $700 million just doesn’t cut it.



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Valeant is the big kahuna making good waves on Wall Street with an earnings beat that sent the stock up 15% today.  Much of that had to do with a 6% increase across its divisions not to mention the boost it got from unloading some of its debt. The company picked up $3.69 per share on a $1.3 billion profit. But that wasn’t the only reason for the boost. Remember Addyi? It’s the drug that was dubbed the “female viagra”  and Valeant bought it from Sprout Pharmaceuticals around two years ago for about $1 billion. Problem is, the deal had been bleeding money since the beginning. Now, two years later, Valeant actually gave Sprout shareholders $25 million just to take the drug back and put it back in business. But that was only after Sprout sued Valeant because it felt the drugmaker wasn’t marketing the drug well. In all fairness to Valeant however, plenty of medical experts just weren’t that into the drug. Because, besides saying that the drug wasn’t that effective, they also felt that potential users wouldn’t be inclined to taking Addyi given that there was a risk of fainting. Yes, fainting. In fact, the fainting would occur following alcohol consumption while taking the drug. I’m pretty sure anyone could see why that would be a problem.

Weight a minute…


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Oprah Winfrey seems to have the Midas touch, at least with Weight Watchers, as the stock rallied today way over 20% to 54.43, its highest price in four years. Revenue numbers were also ridiculously impressive, coming in at almost $324 million, a 15% increase over last year’s revenue during this period. But back to Oprah. The media titan bought a hefty chunk of the company two years ago and will once again grace Weight Watchers ads. Besides the Oprah effect, the weight-loss company put some major thought into both its digital operations and marketing campaign, which apparently paid off given the fact that the company increased its subscribers by 18% to 3.4 million. Here’s the fun part: Analysts thought the company would do pretty good anyway, bringing in 51 cents per share. But Weight Watchers did better than pretty good, adding 67 cents per share on a $45 million profit. That, by the way, was a $10 million increase from last year at this time. Which kind of has me starting to think about all the companies that good use Oprah on their boards. Twitter, maybe?  Oh, and did I mention that Weight Watchers also raised it full year earnings outlook? Indeed it did and now, instead of expecting to earn between $1.57 and $1.67, it now expects to make between $1.77 and $1.83.  And if that’s not impressive enough for you, consider that shares of Weight Watchers are up 360% just for 2017.




Russia? What About Russia? Facebook Earnings Seem to Be So Much Bigger Than Russia; Major Chink in Under Armour; All Night Long: It’s Party Time at Walmart

It’s good to be Facebook…


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It’s another quarter of rainbows and unicorns for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The social media mega-monster blew expectations out of the water with its daily active users growing to almost 1.4 billion, an increase of 50 million users. Revenue increased 47% and came in at over $10 billion. I won’t even bother boring you with what analysts expected. In the meantime, shares picked up an additional $1.59, which was a swift kick in the rear to predictions of $1.28 per share and a majorly impressive 77% increase over last year at this time. Apparently, all this talk about Russia using propaganda on Facebook to influence the presidential election seems to be having a nominal effect on the company.  Amid all this glorious earnings news, Facebook’s general counsel was hanging out in our nation’s capital, taking a beating because some folks in Congress just aren’t down with the way Facebook has this uncanny knack for effectively targeting digital ads to users simply based on their likes. I guess politicians are worried that those targeted ads might be – and have been – too effective in getting their opponents elected.  But Wall Street just laughed away sending shares all the way up to almost $183 per share.

Over Armour?


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Under Armour released its quarterly profits and it seemed like there was carnage all around.  The big bad ugly issue, aside from the actual numbers, is that the company is slashing forecasts for 2017. If that’s not a fiscal kiss of death, I don’t know what is. As for revenue, it fell. A lot. To about $1.4 billion, an almost 5% drop year over year. However, if we’re just looking at what happened just in the U.S., Under Armour revenue fell a whopping 12%. That’s a huge problem because it was the first time that ever happened since the company made its super-hyped Wall Street debut. Of course, you can’t have bad news on Wall Street without shares of the company in question going south. Which is precisely what happened as shares of Under Armour tanked 24% today. Add that to the fact that since September of 2015, shares have fallen around 85%. The carnage, unfortunately, doesn’t end there. Profit was down to just over $54 million and 12 cents per share, which was about half of what it was last year at this time. To add insult to injury, expectations were for $75 million. Of course, some would say those dismal figures are partly the result of the company’s $85 million restructuring charge. But I guess that’s the kind of money you have to spend when you are trying to keep a multi-billion dollar company like Under Armour from hemorrhaging more money. And true to CEO fashion, Under Armour’s own Kevin Plank made sure to blame, among other factors, businesses that went bankrupt since those other businesses, like sporting good stores, sold Under Armour merchandise. The bad news seemed to be contagious as shares of both Nike and Adidas took a nasty dip as well.



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Walmart wants to win the holidays. And it’s training hardcore for the finish. Sure, that means sales. And promos. And all the rest of the gimmicks and sales. But Walmart’s also throwing in some partying. I’m totes serious here.  Starting this Saturday, Walmart will hold 20,000 parties in its Super Centers with the first one being called, “Toys that Rock.” Not to be outdone by toys, the retailer will also have parties called “Gifts that Rock” and “Parties that Rock.” Are you sensing a theme here? Of course, no party is complete without a decent goody bag or giveaway, so for you, the shopper, that means a curated gift guide and catalog. See how nicely that works out for Walmart. And you, maybe. Sort of. Walmart is also adding lots more “holiday helpers” to help guide shoppers to cashiers, open more registers and grab things from all over the store…and beyond. And demos, We mustn’t forget the demos. Apparently, there will be 165,000 of them spread all through Walmart’s gazillion stores. Laugh all you want, but Wall Street’s digging Walmart’s latest initiatives and overall drive, sending shares of the company up today by almost 1%.

Is Twitter Finally Getting Something Right? Ford’s Got a Truckin’ Big Problem; Wall Street’s Got Beef with Chipotle’s Labor

I’ll tweet to that…


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Rumor has it that Twitter is finally, actually, seriously going to do something about sexual harassment and other hideous actions and behaviors that take place on the micro-blogging platform. The new policy changes are aimed at bullies and other highly offensive, odious excuses for human beings. But just what kind of consequences can offenders expect and how quickly can they expect them? Glad you asked. Accounts owned by the offenders will get shut down. Immediately. And forever. Posters of non-consensual nudity, including, “upskirt imagery, creep shots and hidden camera content” are out too.  Posters of “hate symbols, violent groups, and tweets that glorifies violence” can also expect some new rules that they will definitely not like.  What’s also new and necessary is that Twitter wants to figure out how bystanders get to report abuses. Just don’t expect these changes to happen overnight. In fact, it could be weeks before those policy changes take effect. Besides, Twitter’s still busy being investigated by Congress and testifying about Russia’s Twitter role in the 2016 presidential election. It seems that the 201 profile names Twitter provided to the Senate last week just weren’t enough to convince Senator Warner that Twitter was being sincere in its efforts to cooperate. But perhaps its karma for the way the micro-blogging site suspended actress Rose McGowan after bravely calling out the nefarious actions of the monster we call Harvey Weinstein.

Have you driven a Ford lately?


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There’s nothing like a recall to completely mess with your most profitable line of trucks. Ford Motor Co. is now taking a brutal hit over its very popular, number one selling F Series trucks. In fact, the aforementioned truck is the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. Apparently the doors on some 1.3 million F-150’s and Super-Duty trucks are posing a $267 million problem because if they are not fully latched they may not open or seem closed. To be fair, no accidents or injuries related to this particular issue have been reported. Yet, anyway.  The recall was inconveniently announced just weeks after Ford’s newly installed CEO unveiled a plan to cut $14 billion worth of costs. Ford plans to officially notify its customers next month but has not yet mentioned when the parts necessary to repair the trucks would be available. But Ford presumably anticipated this particular challenge since it already has some unwanted experience in this dreaded arena, with this latest fiasco bringing its recall total to 5 million vehicles.

No perks?


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As the saying goes, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Which brings us to Chipotle, the beleaguered fast-food chain who apparently pays its employees too much – no, that is not a typo – and because of it is suffering Wall Street’s fiscal wrath. Don’t shoot the messenger here. Analysts at Bank of America Merrill Lynch just downgraded the restaurant chain from neutral to underperform because the amount of money spent on labor needs to be cut. Back in 2006, Chipotle’s average weekly hours were 34.6 for part-time and full-time employees. That was its high point. But in 2016 that number dropped significantly to 21.7. The company already did a lot of scaling back and needs to do more. However, according to analysts, there doesn’t seem to be any decent way to achieve this and still come out on top – and in the green. Shares naturally dropped by about 2% today and are down 12% for the year.


Amazon Shatters Sales Records. Again.; Apple Plays Nice With China’s New Laws; U.S. Gov’t Says Nyet to Cybersecurity Company

Primed for purchase…


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If you haven’t heard by now, yesterday was Prime Day, which is basically Amazon’s answer to Black Friday deals in the middle of summer. Laugh and poke fun all you want. But if you do, the joke’s on you. Because according to preliminary figures from Amazon, not only were sales up 60% over last year’s Prime Day, but “Prime” sales for July 11 even blew past 2016’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday. In fact, Amazon called it it’s “biggest day ever.” To be fair, this year’s Prime Day was 30 hours long, compared with last year’s 24 hours. But it wasn’t just about the deals that has Amazon all giddy today. Prime Day also brought in a significant amount of brand-spanking new Prime members.  Because as everyone on Amazon already knows, if you want those super deals, you need to be a Prime member, and yesterday saw more Prime membership sign-ups than any other time in Amazon’s history. As for the most popular Prime purchase, that would be the Echo Dot for the ultra-bargain price of $34.99, which usually sells for around $50. The most popular non-Amazon item sold in the U.S. on Prime Day was an Instant Pot Pressure Cooker. I could not make that up if I tried.

Apple of China’s eye….


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Leave it to Apple to not let some vague, burdensome, newly enacted cyber-security legislation get in the way of setting up a data center in China. China’s new cyber-security laws require that any data collected on its citizens needs to be stored on servers in China. If companies want to transfer any of that information, they need to go through regulatory review and approval…in China. For Apple, complying with Chinese law means an opportunity to improve the speed and reliability of the company’s products and offerings. While other foreign firms are still busy complaining about these new regulations, calling them a burden and a threat to proprietary data, Apple gets to become the very first of those foreign companies to make the necessary changes and set up shop. The province of Guizhou will play host to the tech giant, and Apple is making down a $1 billion investment to hunker down in that region of China. However, in order for any company to do legit business in China, it needs to team up with a local entity.  So Apple will be partnering up with the Guizhou-Cloud Big Data Industry firm, where all kinds of personal information, belonging to people who own Apple devices, will be stored.

Nyet so fast…


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It seems like just yesterday when you would walk into your local big box electronics retailer and have salespeople urging you to get Kaspersky Labs security for your computer. The company already has some 400 million users worldwide and generated $374 million in sales in 2016 just from the U.S. and Western Europe. But it looks like those days are about to go buh-bye now that the U.S. government is moving to block federal agencies from buying the cyber-security software from the Russian-based company. It seems that Kaspersky may have enjoyed a much much cozier relationship with Russia’s intelligence agencies than it was letting on, and apparently even helped develop security technology for Russia’s spy agency, FSB. However, Kaspersky Labs is calling foul and said it is being unjustly accused. The company also voiced its complaint that there’s an inherent assumption that because it’s a Russian company, that it must be tied to the Russian government. Besides calling the claims “unfounded conspiracy theories” and “total BS,”  CEO Eugene Kaspersky also said “…as a global company, does anyone seriously think we could survive this long if we were a pawn of ANY government?”  But it seems that the U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agent seriously do think that and said as much at an open Senate hearing.


Oh Nyet You Didn’t!: Yahoo Cyber Attacks Courtesy of Russia; Homebuilders Are Feeling Fine; The Fed (Finally) Comes Through With Rate Hike



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There is a first time for everything and today marks the first time that Russian officials were officially busted by U.S. federal prosecutors for cyber attacks. These officials, who are actually Russian officers, allegedly paid other hackers to break into Yahoo to steal information from hundreds of millions of users. So clearly, the officials weren’t the talent behind the scheme. Of the six people charged in the attacks, one of them is a hacker named Alexsey Belan, who had the dubious distinction of being ranked the FBI’s numero uno most wanted cyber-criminal for three years.  But don’t expect any swift justice. While one of the alleged perps was picked up in Canada and headed here to await his fate, the Russian intelligence officers are staying put and probably living large seeing as how there is no extradition in place between Russia and the United States. Among the numerous charges outlined are economic espionage and computer hacking, to name just a few. The attacks, which were revealed last September, were the ones that caused the search engine giant to drop its selling price to Verizon by $350 million. According to the indictment, it appears the attacks were state-sponsored, which has me wondering if things will now be awkward between Presidents Trump and Putin.

Exuding confidence…


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The magic number is 71. No really. It is. At least if you’re looking at the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market index.  That means that homebuilder confidence is very high. Very. To put this number in perspective, anything above the number 50 is good. In March of 2016, that number was 58. So yeah, confidence abounds this year. Sure, the usual reasons are being given, including the fact that we are entering the season that homebuilders love, low mortgage rates and a solid labor market. But there’s another reason: President Trump. Yep. It appears he has begun rolling back on regulations, some of which are environmental, and that’s got homebuilders kicking up their heels in joy since they attribute 25% of the cost of homes to regulations. The regulation currently being rolled back is the Clean Water Rule, a rule that many builders call “burdensome” and which has nothing to do with putting dirty water into homes, I assure you.  Homebuilders see this rollback as a sign that even further de-regulation is in the wings, which would make home-building easier and quicker. And that is making builders positively giddy. And confident, of course.

Done deal…


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It’s official. The fed raised the benchmark lending rate by a quarter of a point. But that’s not the only big news. We are told to expect two more rate increases this year, which is especially weird since this is just the third rate hike in over a year. You may not feel the interest rate change now. And you may not feel it at all. But if you comb over your paperworks, from mortgages to credit cards to bank statements,  then you’ll notice the difference, albeit a subtle one. For now.  So subtle in fact that rates are still at historic lows. But it wont stay that way forever because by 2019 the rate is expected to hit 3% and stay there for quite awhile.  Hey what do you expect? Inflation is rising to the mark where the Fed wants it to, times are good, economically speaking and, just like with home builder sentiment, the strong labor market is putting a fiscal smile on a lot of faces.

Tesla Deliveries Anything But Electrifying; Sec’y of State Nominee’s Future Looks Green; Trump’s SEC Chairman Pick

Not electrifying…


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Tesla’s fourth quarter sales rose 27%, yet deliveries fell short with CEO Elon Musk pointing to production delays. And Tesla didn’t fall short according to Wall Street’s predictions but rather its very own.  It may seem like a convenient excuse, but it’s a valid one that was also used to blame the company’s second quarter shortcomings. The electric car company delivered 22,000 cars in its last quarter, which was over 5,000 more than the same time last year. That might seem awfully impressive except that Tesla wanted that figure to top 25,000 vehicles. So now, that 3,000 car miss becomes an ugly smudge on the company’s fourth quarter earnings report. Tesla’s grand total of car deliveries for the year hit over 76,000. But once again, because Tesla went ahead and predicted that number would hit 80,000, it disappointed only itself.  Setting forecasts he just can’t meet is a nasty habit that Elon Musk can’t seem to break.  Production delays or not, maybe Tesla’s should stop trying to predict the future.  Shares were down 11% for 2016 which marks the first time that Tesla reported an annual decline since its 2010 IPO. But miraculously those shares still rose today because Wall Street clearly has a thing for Elon Musk. Well, his company, anyway.  Wall Street and consumers alike are waiting with bated breath to see if the much anticipated $35,000 Model 3 will actually surface this year. Some experts, however, think the more affordable model will only be making its grand debut in 2018. That still has’t stopped loyal Tesla buyers and enthusiasts from shelling out a total of $350,000 worth of deposits for the car.



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President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, reached a very lucrative retirement deal with ExxonMobil. If Tillerson does in fact get confirmed – and that’s still kind of iffy – then he’ll walk away from his post with $180 million comfortably nestled in a trust account. And that’s the approximate value of Tillerson’s 2 million deferred shares of the energy giant. Because he would not be allowed to own shares of the company if he took the post, the shares would get cashed out and put into an independently managed trust account. Besides dumping his ExxonMobil shares, Tillerson will not be allowed to work in the oil and gas industries for a period of ten years. Plus, he has to give up a cash bonus and other benefits that are worth another $7 million because he won’t be there in March, when he’ll have reached the company’s official retirement age that affords him the opportunity to collect on that $7 million package. But, that $180 million ought to tide him over. He’ll also need to agree to sever ties in order to avoid any conflicts of interest. Should he decide to return to the industry, then all that money would be given to charities of the main trustee’s choosing. But I did write that his confirmation is”iffy” because there are plenty of Congressional members who aren’t down with Tillerson’s cushy relationship with Russian president Vladimir Putin. That’s going to come up a lot during the confirmation hearings and it’ll probably be ugly, if not wholly entertaining.

And I choose you…


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Trump just announced his pick for Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman and it’s one that should surprise…no one. Enter Jay Clayton, a lawyer with the law firm Sullivan and Cromwell, who has plenty of experience with banks. Well, representing them, anyway. Besides banking clients, Clayton also defended a variety of “large financial institutions” against such entities as the Department of Justice, other government agencies and regulators and – get this – even the SEC itself.  Some of his more notable achievements include representing everybody’s favorite Chinese e-commerce giant, Alibaba, when it made its grand IPO debut. He’s also represented Barclays when it unceremoniously scooped up Lehman Brothers, and Bear Stearns when JP Morgan took it on. You didn’t think we’d leave out Goldman Sachs, did you?  Because he repped that one too.  Word on the street is that Carl Icahn interviewed Clayton, along with several other candidates for the post. Presumably the two gentlemen discussed how to best undo obstructive banking regulations, Dodd-Frank and all those other pesky rules that have been casting a major downer on the financial world.

Oil-vey! Trump’s Secretary of State Pick Putin Us On; Trump vs. Silicon Valley; Rate Hike Sends Joy Throughout Wall Street



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Trump’s latest pick, this time for Secretary of State, has naturally already ruffled more than a few political feathers. Enter Exxon Mobil Corp. CEO Rex Tillerson, a man who happens to be very very cushy with Russia and its fearless leader, Vladimir Putin. If you recall, Russia is very brazenly messing with Ukraine, to the point where the U.S. felt compelled to impose sanctions. Now, the CIA said the country also launched cyber attacks against the U.S. in an effort to influence the election results. But that very same country awarded Tillerson the Friendship Medal in 2013.  Tillerson, who has never held a public office, has been at Exxon, the world’s largest energy firm, for 40 years and during that time spent many many hours cultivating relationships and establishing major business deals with countless foreign countries and companies. But he’ll still need to be confirmed by the Senate. However, considering that former Secretaries of State Condoleeza Rice and James Baker are big fans, not to mention Defense Secretary Robert Gates, he shouldn’t have too much of an uphill battle. By the way, Condoleeza Rice also happens to be a consultant at Exxon Mobil, and Robert Gates was a consultant at one point too. Rumor has it that they all plan to vouch for the CEO.  Lindsay Graham and John McCain, however, are just not that into him, presumably because of his chummy relationship with Putin, of whom they are not particularly fond. Also not in Tillerson’s favor is the fact that Exxon currently has billions of dollars in deals with Russia, not to mention one valued at $500 billion that involves exploring and pumping for oil in Siberia. Those deals can only go forward if the U.S. decides to lift its sanctions against Russia and, fyi,  Tillerson was never much of a fan of the sanctions. And just so you know, according to a filing from a year ago, Tillerson owns $218 million in Exxon stock along with a $70 million pension plan. Shares of Exxon Mobil went up 2.2% on the news of Tillerson’s nomination.


Speaking of Trump…


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Tomorrow is a big day at Trump Towers as some of Silicon Valley’s top execs head over to the President-elect’s digs for a little quality time with Donald Trump. Expected to attend the power meeting are: Apple’s Tim Cook, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Tesla’s Elon Musk and Google’s Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt…to name but a few. While the agenda’s not public, there are some predictions about what might be discussed tomorrow. There’s the not-so-minor issue of antitrust enforcement and those pesky government demands for user data. But much higher on that list is Trump’s immigration policies and how they have the potential to put a very major damper on the inner workings at many of these Silicon Valley companies. The fact that these companies bring in a lot of employees on special visas, not to mention that they also send plenty of jobs overseas, doesn’t exactly jibe well with Trump’s vision of “Making America Great Again.”  To be fair, Apple did say it has 80,000 employees in the United States and is also responsible for creating another 2 million jobs from all the business opportunities Apple creates. However, Trump did say, in his very eloquent way, that he wants to “get Apple to build their damn computers and things” right here.  Donald Trump is all for establishing major tax reforms and is acutely aware that all these tech companies have a lot of cash offshore. Major reform will help bring that cash back to the States. So its in everyone’s best interests to work together towards that goal, whether they supported Trump’s presidential aspirations or not. And for the record, they did not.

Stocks, and bonds and hikes…Oh my!


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

Stocks all over the world rejoiced today by going up while the Dow Jones Industrial Average came thisclose to hitting the 20,000 mark following its 9% surge since Election Day. Actually, the index came within 50 points of the 20,000 mark which sent Wall Street into fits of fiscal joy. The S&P got in on the action by going up .8% to its very own all-time high. The reason for all this excitement is because the Federal Reserve is expected to officially and finally finally announce a rate hike tomorrow, marking the second time in ten years that we get to witness and take part in that elusive increase. Rate hikes are welcome since they signal that the economy is strong and steady in all the right ways. Low interest rates have this nifty little effect on stocks that makes them cost higher. Problem is low interest rates are just no good  for the savers among us who like high interest rates because of the income they get from bonds and bank accounts.  Even though borrowing costs are about to get that much higher, investors are still positively giddy at the prospect that the President-elect intends to usher in an era of potentially lower corporate tax rates, less regulation and lots more infrastructure spending.