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The world's largest hedge fund manager is losing faith in the Trump bump.
Bridgewater Associates' co-CIO Greg Jensen and senior investment associate Atul Narayan laid out their reasoning in a client note out Wednesday morning.
The client note is titled "US growth has slowed and the likelihood of a significant Trump fiscal boost has diminished." A copy of the report was reviewed by Business Insider.
In short, the note says that investors are losing faith in all the things that spurred a market rally in the wake of Donald Trump's election expectations — expectations that spending and reforms would boost economic growth and inflation. It's a view that's now creeping across Wall Street, pushing stocks lower.
"The remaining outperformance, which represents a combination of rising expectations of future growth, improving sentiments, and expectations for deregulation, etc., is small," the authors wrote about the financial markets.
Deregulation "may still be somewhat of a trigger for economic growth, but the pushes on infrastructure and tax reform appear more and more modest, and more and more stuck," the authors added. In turn, "there is less pressure on the Fed to tighten, and we expect they will adjust."
Jensen and Narayan go on to say that they think comprehensive tax reform is "ambitious."
"Our expectations are for less impactful tax reform and modest tax cuts given the ongoing concern of many congressional Republicans about the deficit," the authors wrote.
Spokespeople for Bridgewater didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Here are other highlights from the note:
- Corporations. "The corporate statutory tax rate is likely to land somewhere around 25% (from 35% currently), with some combination of immediate depreciation of capex for equipment (but not IPO or structures) and curtailment of net interest expensing... we expect the odds of a BAT as currently proposed to be low."
- Infrastructure. "Infrastructure spending will be slow and difficult to implement."
- Corporate taxes over personal taxes. "The administration seems to be favoring meaningful middle income tax relief, but less net tax reductions for higher tax payers... the Trump administration's desire to give tax cuts for high-income households beyond the potential cuts from repealing the Obamacare tax increases is limited."
- Trade policy. "Recent Trump statements suggest a policy shift toward a more modest protectionist agenda."
Ray Dalio, Bridgewater's founder, raised similar concerns regarding changes to fiscal policy and deregulation in an interview with Business Insider's Henry Blodget earlier this month.
Westport, Conn.-based Bridgewater manages about $150 billion companywide, according to its website.
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Virtu Financial, the high-speed trading firm, just announced a deal to acquire KCG Holdings in an all cash transaction deal for $1.4 billion.
Virtu CEO Doug Cifu said that “KCG fits perfectly with Virtu’s strategic priorities," and said there would be "significant value creation through synergies." That could put employees at the two companies on edge.
Virtu said in a presentation that it has identified $208 million of net cost savings in the deal, $180 million of which would be achieved in the area of "occupancy, overhead and redundancies."
Virtu said in the presentation that it would integrate middle and back office and support functions, and corporate, regulatory, and compliance departments. In other words, there are job cuts on the way. Virtu currently employs 148 people while KCG employs 952.
Virtu CEO Cifu had this to say on the subject (emphasis ours):
“KCG fits perfectly with Virtu’s strategic priorities to apply our market making and technological expertise to customer wholesale order flow and expand Virtu’s growing agency execution business by offering clients a combination of Virtu and KCG’s superior algorithms and proprietary analytical tools. In addition, there is immediate opportunity for revenue growth and significant cost saving."
Virtu is expecting the deal to close during the third quarter of this year after receiving both regulatory and KCG shareholder approval.
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Bond exchange-traded funds have exploded in size in the last few years. The big ticket trades in them are getting bigger too.
Exchange-traded funds were originally launched as a vehicle for stocks, and they've been attracting assets at a fast clip in recent years. The combined assets of US ETFs stood at $2.7 trillion in February, according to the Investment Company Institute, of which $457.4 billion was in bond ETFs.
A growing chunk of the trading in these bond ETFs is now in large sizes, with the percentage of bond ETF block trades doubling over the past six years.
Close to $1 in every $4 of bond ETFs traded part of a block trade, according to Credit Suisse. While blocks are commonly defined as those exceeding 10,000 shares or $200,000 in total value, the average bond ETFs block trade was $812,000 per trade in 2016, and $852,000 in the first two months of 2017.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, fixed income is also leading growth in block trades larger than 100,000 shares, which have seen their share climb seven percentage points over the past seven years to 17%. Bond funds currently account for about 40% of the large trades of more than 100,000 shares, up from less than 10% in 2010, Credit Suisse data show.
As an extension of that, 17 of the 20 ETFs most frequently traded in blocks are bond-related. The explanation offered by Credit Suisse is that the bond market is less transparent, which hampers the efforts of traders who use computer-based trading models to transact. As a result, the securities are traded in larger chunks.
Credit Suisse also cites the adoption of fixed income funds by institutional investors, whose adoption of ETFs in general has surged. The popularity of bond ETFs specifically has at least partially stemmed from a prolonged period of low interest rates.
By boasting attractive yields, bond ETFs have been used by investors as an alternative to investments such as money markets funds, which can offer lower returns.
Further, while liquidity in the cash market has gotten tight, ETFs provide investors a handy way to easily move in and out. Bond funds are also used by firms to smooth out holdings in separately managed accounts, according to Credit Suisse.
Block trading in ETFs across all asset classes totaled more than $3 trillion in 2016 for the third straight year, according to the firm, which projects similar levels for full-year 2017.
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Crude oil has not yet recovered from its worst crash in a generation.
But the price range that it has traded in for several months is proving to be a boon for US oil producers, which took several steps including job cuts to adjust to the lower-price environment.
"Energy is very much in a sweet spot for the economy and for markets," said Randy Frederick, the vice president of trading & derivatives at the Schwab Center for Financial Research.
Prices are high enough that many producers can turn a profit and are not defaulting on their debt, both of which would affect markets, Frederick said. Energy earnings, for example, are expected to provide the largest contribution to profits growth, according to FactSet. Analysts think the sector earned $7.5 billion in the first quarter, compared with a loss of $1.5 billion a year ago.
Additionally, oil and gas mergers-and-acquisitions activity is more subdued than it was when several companies were on the verge of bankruptcy.
"If oil prices get too low, it's a drain on the market, and if oil prices get too high, it's a drain on the market," Frederick said. "It's now irrelevant, which is a good thing."
With oil trading in a relatively stable range, US explorers have returned to continue flooding the market. The oil-rig count rose by 25% in the first quarter of this year, according to Baker Hughes, though it's still well below its 2014 peak.
That's just one sign of bullishness in the market, though it's coming at a cost. For one, it's keeping a lid on oil prices even though several members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries have pledged to pare back their contribution to the supply glut.
Also, more production is expensive. Schlumberger, the world's largest oil-field-services producer, on Friday said the cost of reactivating equipment that had been idle weighed on its margins.
"In the first quarter, the North America land market continued to strengthen in terms of both activity and pricing, leading us to begin accelerating deployment of idle capacity for multiple product lines," Schlumberger CEO Paal Kibsgaard said in the earnings statement.
But if oil continues to wallow in the range that it's in now, US oil drillers can continue to raise their output for some time yet.
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Individual investors are human beings, not robots.
As such, not all investment decisions are based solely on rational models or algorithms. In many cases a person's emotions or life experience can play the biggest role in a person's investment preferences.
Chris White is a financial advice expert who has invested the money of hundreds of individuals, families, and institutions over the course of his 25 years in the wealth management business.
Throughout his career, White has paid close attention to the way in which human nature influences the way people want to investment their money. And he has spent much of that career advising his fellow financial advisers to follow suit.
White wrote "Working with the Emotional Investor: Financial Psychology for Wealth Managers," in which he argues that understanding a client's emotions is key to pursuing the best investment strategies.
In a wide-ranging interview with Markets Insider, White explained his investment philosophy, the three different client types a financial adviser can have, and the biggest mistake a financial adviser can make.
Markets Insider: How do people’s emotions and life experiences shape their feelings about investments and risk-taking?
Chris White: In working with clients, I’ve found that people’s views about money and investing often can be traced back to early life experiences of pain and loss associated with family, friends, relationships, and love. These experiences can include: the ‘imperfect love” a child received from their parents; childhood events that featured danger, threat or loss; the influence of key authority figures in a young childhood life; family values and culture, and much more. These formative life experiences all shape the growth and development of an individual’s “emotional template” which governs how they relate to the world around them.
As adults, the unique emotional elements embedded in a person’s make-up continue to influence their relationship to the world around them; specifically, an individual’s risk tolerance, their feelings about gain and loss, their capacity to trust others, and their ability or inability to act in their own financial interest, especially in high-stakes circumstances such as economic uncertainty, significant life transitions, or a roiling stock market.
For example, a person who experiences significant personal or emotional loss or pain as a child may, as an adult, have little trust in others, have a deep-seated need for security and control, and be very risk-intolerant when it comes to investing.
MI: How can investors protect themselves from emotional reactions in decision-making or trading scenarios?
White: As investors, it’s important for each of us to know the emotional triggers that can affect us when it comes to investing. Such self-awareness can keep us from making rash choices in some cases – for example, dumping all of our stock when the market is turbulent and tanking.
But developing awareness of our preferred investment “style” is also of value, even when we’re operating under normal, everyday market conditions. For example, in the normal course of things, do you tend to be a cautious, risk-averse investor or more of a high-risk “high roller” willing to take chances to see your wealth grow?
Regardless of your style (and no style is any better than any other) be sure to share your wealth management goals and priorities with your advisor. If there are specific personal values that influence your thinking about investing, share those too. Work with your advisor to develop wealth management plans and goals that are uniquely suited to your personality, values, financial goals, and risk-tolerance. A good advisor should be a good listener, and be willing to work closely with you to understand your needs, interests, and investment priorities. He or she is also in a unique position to help you make sound, well-grounded investment decisions and avoid the pitfalls of emotional overreactions to rising or falling markets.
MI: You wrote about the three types of client personalities (“Fixers,” “Survivors,” and “Protectors”) that show up in high stakes situations. Can you expand on these?
White: Generally speaking, there are three types of clients you’re likely to meet in your work as a wealth advisor.
They include the FIXER, the SURVIVOR, and the PROTECTOR.
The FIXER is a client who is very results-oriented, and business-like in their interpersonal dealings with you. Under normal, everyday circumstances, Fixers can be charming, charismatic, and stimulating to be around. They often attract other people to them. Many CEOs are Fixers because of their “can do” attitude, and because they’re very focused on getting things done.
But when market conditions deteriorate, watch out! The Fixer client can become controlling and argumentative with you. He or she may become abusive too, lashing out and blaming you for what’s happening in the stock market.
If you find yourself dealing with a Fixer client in high-stakes circumstances, take a deep breath. Stay calm, and respond in a quiet, systematic way to what the Fixer is saying. Address the client’s concerns as specifically as possible, using undeniable facts to support your point of view. Your quiet confidence in such situations will help build trust with the Fixer, and reinforce your professional credibility with your client.
SURVIVORS are quite different from FIXERS. Survivors tend to be idealistic and sometimes naïve or unrealistic in their approach to investing. They can be mission-driven martyrs sometimes willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of noble causes, including stock picks and investment strategies that no longer work for them! At the very least, their idealism can get in the way of them making sound and financially beneficial personal decisions about investing.
If you’re dealing with a Survivor client when the markets are in free fall, he or she may insist on hanging on to a certain stock, even when you think they should sell it. A Survivor is also likely to greet stock market adversities with a certain grim determination, and to say “I’ll get through this, I know I will.”
While evidence of their general steadiness as investors, such sentiments sometimes cause Survivors to dig in their heels, and to resist logical advice about how to curb stock market losses in down markets.
Indeed, in high-stakes situations, the Survivor client can get stuck and be unable to make good business decisions about their investments. At that moment, you may need to gently nudge them in new directions, offering investment alternatives, and suggesting ways they can minimize their market exposure in a bear market.
Lastly there are PROTECTORS. Protector clients are those who think about others — family, friends, and loved ones — when talking with you about investments and financial planning. If you have a Protector as a client you’ll know it.
Protectors tend to assume guardian and caretaker roles as investors. Under normal, everyday (low stakes) circumstances, Protectors will talk expansively about how they want to use their wealth to benefit others including spouses, partners, children, and loved ones. Or, to benefit specific missions or causes.
Despite their generosity toward others however, Protectors are the most risk-averse of all the client personality types. As situations become high stakes, Protectors tend to display vulnerability. And in worst-case situations, Protectors can become victims of what they perceive to be happening around them.
In contrast to Fixers and Survivors, Protectors don’t believe they have any power to control events or to take action to address deteriorating market conditions.
For that reason, if you work with a Protector client under high-stakes or high-stress circumstances it’ll be important to calm their fears, help them take charge of their situation, explore options, and plot courses of action to help them ride out circumstances of extreme market volatility.
FIXERS, SURVIVORS, and PROTECTORS are the three predominant client personality types you’re likely to encounter in your work as a wealth advisor. Being prepared to deal effectively with each personality type will ensure you’re able to forge and sustain long-term working relationships with many kinds of people, under many kinds of circumstances.
As a wealth advisor, assessing the specific type of client you’re working with is key to being optimally effective with that client. Different strategies are often required in dealing with different types of client personalities
The biggest mistake that advisors make is to treat everybody the same...
MI: What are the biggest mistakes wealth advisors make in working with clients?
White: The biggest mistake that advisors can make is to treat everybody the same, to presume that everybody has the same goals and priorities when it comes to investing. A second mistake is to push specific financial products or solutions on clients that may not be appropriate for them and their circumstances.
The common denominator here is that the advisor needs to listen carefully to what the client says and needs.
As a wealth advisor, I believe it’s critical to understand what drives my clients’ views and priorities about investing so I can counsel them appropriately about how to manage their wealth and make investment choices. For that reason, I like to begin my work with clients by delving into their personal stories and family histories, in order to understand what has shaped their investment thinking as adults. I look not only to identify the emotional drivers of their decision-making, but also the personal and family values that influence them when it comes to making investment decisions. For example, what do they see as the purpose of their wealth? To what goals (financial, personal, familial, etc.) do they want to commit themselves? In many cases, I find that investors have never been asked such questions as part of the investment planning process. But for me, understanding this “back story” is key to advising my clients in a professional and ethical way.
MI: What are the biggest mistakes investors make?
White: Letting their emotions get the better of them! Earlier, I mentioned that investors typically can be divided into three personality types: Fixers, Survivors, and Protectors. Each has their potential strengths as an investor. The Fixer is very goal and results-oriented, the Survivor is typically motivated by a personal cause or mission, while the Protector is typically very concerned about taking care of others. But under high-stakes circumstances, each client type can go to “the dark side.” In a turbulent market, for example, the Fixer can become intransigent, unwilling to listen to an advisor’s advice. The Survivor may hang on far too long to a bad investment, and resist taking steps to mitigate their losses, while the Protector can become immobilized, and feel there’s nothing he or she can do to take charge of their situation in a bad market.
In situations like these, the client needs to practice emotional mindfulness, and trust the insights, perspective, and recommendations of their advisor. Hopefully, the client and advisor have forged a strong bond of trust under normal, everyday circumstances, which can then help both parties work closely together to keep things steady when the markets are roiling.
MI: Why is it important for advisors and investors to understand their emotional tendencies? Once identified, how can they eliminate their biases to make clearer decisions?
White: I’ve talked about why it’s important for our clients to understand themselves as emotional beings, and to appreciate the emotional triggers that influence their thinking about money and investing.
Likewise, we, as advisors, need to understand our emotions around money and investing as well, if we are to effectively and dispassionately serve the needs of our clients. Why’s that?
Because there will be times when we need to hold our own opinions and feelings in check, when working with clients whose personality types and investment styles are very different from our own. For example, say you are a Fixer, and you determine that your client is a Protector. Your strategy in dealing with that client needs to be very different from what you would use in working with another Fixer, like yourself. Likewise, if you, as an advisor, identify as a Protector or Survivor, you need to adopt a very different stance and strategy in working with a client who is a Fixer.
In Working with the Emotional Investor I spend a great deal of time discussing the nuanced strategies an advisor can employ in dealing with different client personality types.
Understanding the complex emotional dynamics at play in a client-relationship is absolutely essential to the wealth advisor being an effective advisor to many different kinds of clients.
When both you and your client are aware of how emotions shape your attitudes about investing, it creates the conditions for mutual trust to be established, and for you, as a wealth advisor, to bring a dispassionate, fact-based, professional approach to counseling the client sitting in front of you at that moment.
MI: What should an advisor do when clients “go to the dark side?”
White: There are different strategies and tactics an advisor can use to counsel a client under high-stress or high-stakes circumstances. Fixers, for example, are always looking for evidence of your professional credibility. So, under high-stakes circumstances, it’s extremely important for you to stay calm and grounded, even if the Fixer lashes out at you, which he or she may do if they feel financially vulnerable and exposed. Step back and observe how they are “showing up” to you at that moment, then, strive to insert undeniable logic and reason into whatever advice or recommendations you make to that individual to help them make investment decisions.
In contrast to Fixers, Survivors often get “stuck” in times of crisis or market turbulence. They get wedded to investment positions, and may resist selling a stock, even when you recommend they do so to reduce their down market exposure. Survivors often like to “tough things out” even when reasonable options to improve their marketplace position are available. If you see this occurring, you may need to confront the Survivor client and inform them that they are not safe-guarding their assets as they should.
Finally, Protectors are very anxious about the preservation of their wealth. So, advisors must be sensitive to this and reassure them, even in high-stakes situations. Protectors are highly risk-averse; thus, they can be a special challenge for advisors to deal with one-on-one. Because they are very sensitive to market volatility, they often resist embracing reasonable, moderate-risk options to grow a portfolio. Given this, reassure the Protector client that you have completed due diligence efforts to ensure that the investment options and plans you are proposing to them are reasonable and well-researched.
Understanding the emotional make-up of your client is always important, but it’s especially important in high-stakes circumstances. In Working with the Emotional Investor I provide a checklist of tips and tactics you can use with each personality type both in high-stakes and low-stakes situations. I also introduce a powerful conversational model, called the Four Player model that you can use to interact effectively with clients under many different circumstances.
MI: What are some of the triggers that can prompt the personalities of clients to change, and how can advisors adapt accordingly?
White: There are many potential triggers that can cause changes in client behavior. Wild changes in the market (up or down) can cause client personality types to become more pronounced. During the 2008-2009 market downturn, I had one wealthy, elderly client, who’d lived through the Depression, ask me if he’d have to “start eating spam again.” Other triggers of stress include the death of a partner or spouse, toxic family dynamics, retirement, or other significant job changes, terminal disease, or other profound changes in a person’s life circumstances.
MI: Is there anything else you would like to add about advisor behavior?
I strive to bring a servant leadership approach to my client work. It is, after all, about them. I’m there to serve their personal, family and financial interests, not my own. I devoted an entire chapter of my book just to the topic of servant leadership. You can only exercise servant leadership with your clients when you understand and appreciate them as individuals, and develop investment plans that align with their unique personality, temperament, values, and financial objectives. or me, this is at the heart of my fiduciary responsibility to those I serve.
Tina Wadhwa contributed reporting.
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Some jobs are disproportionately concentrated in certain states.
Fashion designers flock to New York, Texas has an outsized share of petroleum engineers, and Louisianans are more likely than other Americans to be boat pilots or captains.
We made a map that shows the most overrepresented job in each state, among jobs with at least 1,000 people employed, using the Bureau of Labor Statistics' recently released May 2016 Occupational Employment Statistics. Each state has far more of these jobs per capita than the nation as a whole.
We'll discuss the methodology later. First check out the map:
These are not the most common jobs in these states. That map would be boring because "retail salesperson" is the most common job in 40 states and the country.
This map instead shows jobs that are disproportionately concentrated in each state.
For example, in New York, there were about 7,590 fashion designers out of 9,097,650 employed people. So fashion designers account for about 8.3 out of every 10,000 jobs in New York.
In the US, there are about 19,230 fashion designers out of 140,400,040 employed people. So about 1.4 of every 10,000 jobs in America are in fashion design.
The BLS calls the ratio of these two rates the location quotient for a job in a particular area. The location quotient of fashion designers in New York is 8.3 divided by 1.4, which is about six. That is, there are about six times as many fashion designers per 10,000 total employed people in New York as in the US.
The map shows the job in each state with the highest location quotient, among jobs with at least 1,000 people employed. These jobs exist at much higher rates in each state than in the country.
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Federal Reserve Vice Chair Stanley Fischer’s academic and policy credentials are hard to match. During his days at MIT’s economics department, he was a teacher of teacher, lecturing to Ben Bernanke, the ex-Fed chairman, and Mario Draghi, the current European Central Bank president.
Still, like Draghi and Bernanke, both of whom have had stints in finance, Fischer is hardly a pure academic. He spent three years working on Wall Street, where he amassed a small fortune.
When he made financial disclosures required of his nomination to the Fed’s board in 2014, Fischer revealed he had as much as $56.3 million in assets, making him one of the richest officials at the central bank.
This led to an awkward moment during a CNBC interview when, after delivering a strong condemnation of efforts to roll back financial reform, Fischer was asked: "Do you think it’s appropriate that it’s being drafted by ex-bankers and current bankers advising them? As a regulator?"
"Well, look," he sputtered. "The people who know about the banking system tend to be bankers and some academics. You need experts, I know there’s a fashion that experts are out of style, but you need them. And that’s where you’re going to find them. So that’s alright."
Fischer did not mention his three years at Citi. He played no small role and during a time when the bank was engaged in the dubious mortgage practices that would help fuel the financial crisis, and require, in Citi's case, multiple taxpayer bailouts. From February 2002 to April 2005, he was vice chairman of Citigroup. He was also Head of the Public Sector Group from February 2004 to April 2005, Chairman of the Country Risk Committee, and President of Citigroup International. Not bad for a three-year run.
Fischer’s proximity to bankers may explain why he did not feel he was crossing an ethical line by giving a private speech to financial industry executives at the Brookings Institution earlier this month, when neither the existence of the speech or its contents were divulged to the press or the public. At that event, Fischer also took questions on interest rates, even though even the smallest comments by top Fed officials on monetary policy can be highly market-moving.
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Scott Minerd, Guggenheim Partners' global chief investment officer and head of Guggenheim Investments, the asset management arm of Guggenheim, just made a big call on the 10-year yield.
In a tweet on Monday morning, Minerd said, "The next stop for 10-year Treasury yields is 2%, with the probability rising that we revisit 1.5% or lower this summer."
Treasury yields surged in the weeks after the election — the 10-year yield climbed about 80 basis points, to more than 2.60% — on the prospects that President Donald Trump's economic agenda would bring inflation back to the United States. That caused analysts on Wall Street to declare the end of the bull market in bonds.
"If Brexit marked a 5,000-year low in global interest rates, Trump marked the moment investors started to position for a bond bear market," Bank of America's Michael Hartnett wrote in a note to clients shortly after the election.
Since then, however, the GOP's healthcare-reform plan has stalled, and that has caused traders to question Trump's ability to deliver on his proposals to cut taxes and roll back regulations.
Yields have fallen sharply over the past month as key data hasn't lived up to the hype. First, the March jobs report disappointed, then retail sales whiffed, and core consumer prices posted their first drop since 2010. All of that has caused the Atlanta Fed's GDPNow forecasting tool to predict gross domestic product will grow by a tepid 0.5% in the first quarter.
The disappointing data is being reflected in the bond market. The 10-year topped out at 2.64% in the middle of March — two days before the Federal Reserve hiked interest rates — and has fallen more than 40 basis points.
But Minerd's betting it will fall a lot further as the economy proves itself to be weaker than everyone thinks.
His call seems to be the first on Wall Street that suggests the 10-year could approach the record low, near 1.35%, set in July.
Minerd's call follows comments from the retired hedge fund manager Raoul Pal, who at the end of March said that "the speculative positioning in bonds up until about a week and a half ago, two weeks ago, was the largest ever short position in the history of the bond markets."
"Everyone is going to be on the wrong side of the boat at the wrong time," he said.
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- Starbucks is sandwiched between inexpensive fast-food chains and high-end "Third Wave" coffee shops.
- While it built its empire on its cool, Euro-inspired image, Starbucks is increasingly known for "basic" drinks like the Unicorn Frappuccino.
- Moving away from the core brand sent Starbucks "over its skis" in the past, the CEO told Business Insider — and he's well aware of past mistakes.
- Starbucks' new mission: to be everything to everyone.
The other weekend I went with my family to a coffee shop that my mother deemed "the most beautiful" Starbucks she'd ever seen.
It was a sprawling, comfortable space on the main street in suburban Michigan, where we were visiting family. The exterior was covered in wood shingles and river rocks. Customers lounged in chairs outside and tapped away on their laptops at tables indoors. Chatty baristas were happy to help us with my mom's low-cal venti iced-coffee order, my cold brew, my dad's tea, and my brother's request to use a bathroom.
It had little in common with the drive-thru Starbucks my parents visit in North Carolina or the crowded store where I pick up my mobile coffee orders in New York City.
These differences show the central tension of what Starbucks has become: all things to all people, and in the process, a brand that's become intermittently muddled and decidedly middlebrow.
Once the chain that persuaded Americans to spend $4 on a cup of coffee with Italian names for drinks and sizes that made coffee an elite experience bordering on pretentiousness, the Starbucks of 2017 is just as known for the super-sweet Pumpkin Spice Latte and the made-for-Instagram Unicorn Frappuccino.
Starbucks is sandwiched between low-end brands like Dunkin' Donuts and McDonald's, which siphon off some of Starbucks' customers with lower prices, and, at the other end, the "Third Wave" coffee chains such as Intelligentsia and Blue Bottle, with their precise pour-overs and baristas who make art out of latte foam.
As Starbucks enters a new era, with plans to open 10,000 locations in five years, and the move of longtime CEO Howard Schultz (the man behind the brand's most revolutionary choices) from chief executive to chairman of the board, the company is trying to figure out if it can be everything to everyone.
The means serving Unicorn Frappuccinos for Instagram-obsessed college students, nitro cold brew for snobs, and a morning cup of joe for commuters on the go. All the while, it needs to fend off competition that its own success helped create at both ends of the market.
At Starbucks image is key. And what some customers think about Starbucks has long been reflected by the jokes about the chain.
The "Venti" joke
When Chris Allieri visited Starbucks in Boulder, Colorado, as a freshman at the University of Colorado in 1992, he had to call his parents.
"It was magic, like a temple to coffee," Allieri, the founder and principal of marketing firm Mulberry & Astor, told Business Insider.
The location, built in a former gas station, was modern, light, and airy. The smell of coffee wafted through the air, as employees ground beans in the store. Baristas — a new word to Americans back then — gave off a perfectly cool vibe, and the coffee options were seemingly endless. Everything about the store was different from the cafés and convenience stores where most people purchased stale-tasting coffee in the '90s, if they even bought the beverage instead of just making it at home from Folgers Crystals.
On the phone from his dorm, Allieri told his parents he was convinced that Starbucks would be the next big thing.
"I kept saying, 'This is bigger than coffee — you don't get it!'" he recalls telling his father. "And I remember him saying, 'Well, you should buy the stock.' As if. I was a broke college student. If only I had the money, or the foresight." If Allieri had purchased $1,000 in Starbucks stock back in 1992 — the year the company went public — he'd have $180,000 today.
The Starbucks experience
Starbucks has made billions of dollars by creating something that didn't exist: a space where customers could not only treat themselves to fancy Italian-style beverages but also relax and socialize. It was a brand that immediately felt sophisticated and elite, making customers like Allieri feel as if they were joining an exclusive club.
When the first Starbucks opened in New York City, The New York Times had to define what a latte was and explain it was pronounced "LAH-tay." Starbucks played up its exotic nature in everything it did, down to its sizes, with "grande" and "venti" providing a connection to the Italian coffee culture that inspired Schultz.
"Starbucks was an affordable way to get luxury," Craig Garthwaite, an associate professor of strategy at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management, told Business Insider. While Starbucks was clearly pricier than your average cup of coffee, it was a small luxury in the grand scheme of things. Most people couldn't afford to buy a BMW, but they could treat themselves with a "grande vanilla latte" as a small symbol of their expensive tastes.
In the 1990s and 2000s, the little details that set Starbucks apart and allowed it to charge a few extra dollars, were new and foreign — and ridiculed by many. As Starbucks expanded, the chain was mocked for calling its beverage sizes tall, grande, and venti instead of small, medium, and large.
In 2004,"Mr. Language Person" Dave Barry published an article in The Times that hit on the tropes of the venti joke:
Starbucks decided to call its cup sizes "Tall" (meaning "not tall," or "small"), "Grande" (meaning "medium") and "Venti" (meaning, for all we know, "weasel snot"). Unfortunately, we consumers, like moron sheep, started actually USING these names. Why? If Starbucks decided to call its toilets "AquaSwooshies," would we go along with THAT?
Starbucks versus Dunkin' Donuts
In 2006, the venti jokes were so common that Dunkin' Donuts launched a campaign lambasting a "certain competitor" for using elitist words that were a perplexing mix of French and Italian. In the ad, which it called "Fritalian," customers stand, slack jawed, looking at a coffee shop's menu board filled with a nonsensical mishmash of words, such as "Limon Au Deau," "Lattcapssreso," and "Isto Cinno."
"Delicious lattes from Dunkin' Donuts — you order them in English, not Fritalian," the narrator says in the commercial's conclusion.
Dunkin' advertising "lattes" shows how mainstream the beverage had become over the last decade, in large part due to Starbucks' influence. As Starbucks grew, lattes had become a symbol of elitist liberals, out of touch with the average American. In 2004, a conservative PAC ran an ad during the Democratic Caucuses featuring an Iowa couple telling Howard Dean to take his "tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading, body-piercing, Hollywood-loving left-wing freak show" back to Vermont.
Yet in 2008, Dunkin' Donuts was selling more inexpensive versions of Starbucks' semi-Euro beverages, while maintaining the brand’s all-American identity.
Starbucks didn't want an all-American identity. For Schultz, confusing, potentially elitist naming conventions weren't a bug; they were a feature.
"Customers believed that their grande lattes demonstrated that they were better than others — cooler, richer, more sophisticated," Bryant Simon wrote in his book about Starbucks, "Everything But the Coffee." "As long as they could get all of this for the price of a cup of coffee, even an inflated one, they eagerly handed over their money, three and four dollars at a clip."
Starbucks' strategy has long been different from that of McDonald's or Dunkin' Donuts. While Dunkin' Donuts attracts customers with low prices and convenience, Starbucks' strategy has been rooted in attracting customers to what Schultz called the "romance and theatre" of the coffee-shop experience.
"Any retailer can throw a few ingredients in a cup and say here's your latte, but Starbucks has differentiated themselves with the experience," Melody Overton, the creator of the blog Starbucks Melody, said.
When customers are making venti jokes, Starbucks is at its best, as an aspirational brand that's unlike any other. The chain's problems come when the venti becomes the norm.
The Starbucks on every corner joke
Throughout the '70s and much of the '80s, Starbucks was a coffee roaster first and a coffee shop second. But in the early '80s, Schultz joined the company and became convinced that Starbucks could achieve a seemingly impossible goal: remain premium while becoming ubiquitous.
Schultz had never wanted Starbucks to stay small, like other regional chains such as Peet's. In fact, Schultz left the company for a brief period in the mid-'80s because he was unable to convince Starbucks founders that the company could be an international chain, not just a coffee roaster. In 1987, Schultz acquired the Starbucks' brand and 17 locations from its founders, who decided to focus their energy on Peet's. Then Schultz began planting the seeds for one of the most ambitious retail expansions in history.
Between 1998 and 2008, Starbucks grew from 1,886 stores to 16,680.
"From the beginning, what they were hoping to be is the third place between home and work," Garthwaite said, referring to the chain's sociology-inspired mission to become a meeting place. "To achieve that goal, you have to be everywhere." And soon Starbucks was.
Even when Starbucks had just 700 stores, the chain seemed pervasive, with NPR's "All Things Considered" announcing as an April Fools' joke in 1996 that Starbucks' was building a "transcontinental coffee slurry pipeline" as part of efforts to become omnipresent. In 2000, an Onion headline read "New Starbucks Opens In Rest Room Of Existing Starbucks." That same year "The Simpsons" aired an episode in which Bart visits a mall in which every store was swiftly being turned into a Starbucks. Lewis Black had a joke in 2002 about seeing a Starbucks across from a Starbucks, which he declared a sign of the end of the universe and evidence against a loving god.
It wasn’t an exaggeration. Around that time, if you stood at just the right spot in New York’s Astor Place, you could see three Starbucks without moving your head.
But unlike the venti jokes, these jabs spelled trouble for the company.
"The number of new stores got ahead of Starbucks' ability to have the [employees] to staff those stores," Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson told Business Insider. The company "got over its skis," sacrificing training and upscale marketing for speedy growth and shareholder returns without thinking of the consequences.
As a result, Starbucks made decisions that would leave the company reeling as it moved away from its roots as a sophisticated, luxury brand.
Schultz had stepped down as CEO in 2000. While he remained on the board, new leadership was more focused on expansion than safeguarding Starbucks' unique brand.
Opening locations across the US and beyond meant adding menu items that appealed to a wider swath of customers, from the failed cocoa-butter Chantico, which launched in 2005 and lasted a year, to the fruity Sorbetto, which launched in 2008 and was pulled after one year. To speed up operations, stores swapped high-end La Marzocco espresso machines for automatic machines. Starbucks no longer smelled like coffee as the chain had begun brewing from flavor-locked packaging.
On their own, each change would have likely gone unnoticed, but taken as a whole they were almost deadly.
"The damage was slow and quiet, incremental, like a single loose thread that unravels a sweater inch by inch," Schultz says in his book "Onward."
While customers may not have been able to pinpoint the changes, they noticed a different environment at Starbucks. "They lost a little bit of their luster — a little bit of their chutzpah, a little bit of their sparkle," Allieri said of Starbucks in the mid-2000s.
As quality slipped at Starbucks, McDonald's and other fast-food competitors smelled opportunity, adding lattes and other specialty coffee beverages to their menus at lower prices. Customers began buying their coffee elsewhere.
"More and more people were asking themselves, 'Why am I paying $4 for a cup of coffee?'" said Oded Netzer, an associate professor of business at Columbia.
It was a grim situation. Starbucks had built a business on its sophisticated brand. Then, as it became ubiquitous, the chain became sterile and corporate. Further, in the recession, expensive coffee was no longer an affordable luxury.
The breaking point
The chain finally reached a breaking point in 2008.
In January of that year, Schultz returned as CEO, with the mission of "re-igniting" customers' "emotional attachment" to Starbucks. In February, Schultz closed all 7,100 US Starbucks locations for three and a half hours to retrain baristas on how to make the perfect espresso. And in July, Starbucks announced it was closing 600 underperforming stores.
As the company's fabled "visionary," Schulz began trying to bring the company back to his roots, a role he took with zeal. Beans were once again ground in stores, a new type of espresso machine was installed across all locations, and stores were redesigned to "recapture the coffeehouse feel," adding touches like local decorations and secondhand furniture.
He righted the sinking ship financially. The company's stock has increased by 1,140% from Starbucks' low in late 2008, and the company has opened 10,000 new locations around the world.
But few would say Starbucks fully recaptured the premium image it had crafted in the '90s. Instead, it entered a period of appealing to both the wealthy and the working class, serving the urbane and the moms in minivans who go through its drive-thrus. Shoppers expect a Starbucks to be nearby, and they no longer wince calling a drink "grande."
This is a big reason Starbucks is stuck in the middle now, sandwiched between chains focusing on no-frills value, like Dunkin' and McDonald's, and the "third wave" of high-end shops. Some are independent; others are fancier chains, like Intelligentsia and Blue Bottle.
Starbucks’ ubiquity empowered rivals at both ends. Over the past year, these problems have once again reared their heads as Starbucks' stock stagnated. Store traffic slowed after years of growth post-2008.
Instead of being mocked for being pretentious, Starbucks now finds itself with something like the opposite problem.
The "basic" joke
The story of Starbucks' current place in Americana can be summed up in one drink: the Pumpkin Spice Latte.
The PSL, as it’s known, sometimes derisively, is a seasonal concoction of cloves, nutmeg, and other spices synonymous with fall. It’s been on the menu since 2003, when Starbucks decided it wanted to create an autumn drink.
According to lore, the PSL was created while brainstorming ideas for a new espresso-based seasonal beverage. The innovation team sat with a pumpkin pie on one side and an espresso machine on the other, alternating shots of espresso and bites of pie in an attempt to deconstruct how best to combine the two flavors.
The drink has become an autumnal tradition. Over the past 13 years, Starbucks has sold 200 million cups of its Pumpkin Spice Latte. It's even created an entire category of PSL products, from breakfast cereals to Pumpkin Spice Peeps. It has a Twitter account.
It also happens to be the defining drink of the "basic b---h."
The dangers of being basic
If you are an American between the ages of 10 and 30, being basic isn't necessarily a definable term; it's a feeling you get about a certain kind of person, almost always female. To be a "basic b---h" is to buy into an unoriginal image of what is enjoyable and feminine, and to broadcast these uninspired tastes to the world. It's the opposite of being edgy or cool — it's behaving as expected, buying into a certain degree of groupthink. Wearing Uggs and leggings? Basic. Instagramming your fingers, coated in Essie nail polish, clutching a rainbow bagel at brunch with your girls? Basic. Pumpkin Spice Lattes? The most basic thing of all.
Thought Catalogue listed "liking Pumpkin Spice Lattes" as No. 2 on the list of "21 Signs You're A Basic B*tch" in 2012.
By fall 2014 the topic had exploded. Twitter was flooded with jokes about "basic white girls" loving PSLs. More than one group of white people released a parody rap video about Pumpkin Spice Lattes ("pumpkin spice latte rap" yields more than 2,000 results on YouTube). BuzzFeed published a think piece about PSL and class anxiety, "breaking down why we’re actually dismissive of all things pumpkin spice."
For Starbucks, the onslaught of PSL jokes is good and bad. On one hand, the Pumpkin Spice Latte is incredibly popular — estimates suggest the chain has made a billion dollars selling the drink. On the other hand, being seen as a beacon for the basic is far from the upscale coffee-shop image that the Starbucks brand is built upon and that Schultz fought tooth and nail to win back in 2008.
"You can say tough luck, we're going to go with the new customers because they're the majority now," Netzer said on Starbucks' attempts to serve both mainstream teens and coffee snobs. "The problem with that is [the original] strategy is why Starbucks can charge $3 more for coffee than McDonald's or Dunkin' Donuts."
Schultz righted the chain after it became sterile — but he wasn't able to regain the brand's upscale "cool" factor.
"Something we all have to come to terms with as we get older is we're all going to lose the it factor at some point," Garthwaite said. It's nearly impossible for a large corporation to maintain the "edgy, hip factor" that comes with being a small company doing something revolutionary, that Starbucks managed to capture in the late '80s and early '90s.
But Starbucks wants to try. For the past two years, Netzer says, the chain has realized that it was once again straying from its roots and doubled down on coffee to win back the "coffee connoisseurs" who were the brand's base in the '90s.
The first result of that plan opened in Seattle in 2014. Called a "Roastery," the 15,000-square-foot location combines coffee production, menu tests, and architectural whimsy. The Roastery has become a huge part of the company's plans to roll out an upscale brand called Reserve.
"Ubiquity will create sort of a natural gravitation pull toward a commodity," said CEO Johnson. Becoming a commodity is obviously something Starbucks wants to avoid, even as it grows. "Which is why our strategy really includes a key pillar to elevate the brand — which is why we're building Roasteries."
Globally, 1,000 Reserve stores will serve Roastery-style concoctions and food made in the stores. And 20% of all Starbucks locations will feature a Reserve Bar, to allow for more complex ways to prepare drinks.
Still, don't count out the power of the Pumpkin Spice Latte-loving basics just yet. In April, as evidence grew that Starbucks was planning to open a third American Roastery in Chicago, the chain launched its most Instagrammable — and many would say most basic — beverage yet: the Unicorn Frappuccino.
The Unicorn Frappuccino is a brightly colored beverage that changes its color and flavor when stirred. Aesthetically, it's remarkable, looking better when you photograph it yourself than in company advertising. Culinarily, it's kind of gross — a sugar bomb that tastes like an Orange Julius married with Sour Skittles.
It was also an instant hit, flooding social media with customers’ photos of the drink, providing Starbucks with immeasurable free advertising. And nowhere was the drink more prevalent than on the "basic" hashtag on Instagram, where half of the posts are of the Unicorn Frappuccino. Scrolling through #basic, it's as though the hashtag has been transformed into a Starbucks ad.
The everyone drinks Starbucks joke
Imagine walking into a Starbucks in 2022. The building is towering — an open space the size of a large auditorium. In one corner, there's a bar with baristas mixing nonalcoholic coffee cocktails; in another, a roaster heating beans; in another, a full-service restaurant. Employees are clad in leather aprons and low-key hipster garb. Scruffy coffee roasters wear beard nets. The menu is made up of items that easily surpass the $10 mark — drinks that seem more fit for a classy Manhattan cocktail menu than a coffee shop.
Then imagine walking into another version of Starbucks five years down the road from today. Customers are staring at their iPhones, rushing in just as an employee greets them by name and hands them their drink. There's no cash register, no workers taking orders, just baristas making drinks and handing off beverages to customers rushing in and out.
In fact, both of these Starbucks exist now, within just a few miles of each other in Seattle, Washington. One is the first Starbucks Roastery and the other is the first Starbucks' test mobile-only store, which was launched earlier in April in Starbucks' offices.
Looking at Starbucks' history, it's clear that the brand evolved — and will continue to evolve — out of necessity, as it is pulled in different directions.
"As our customer base has grown, sometimes our customer wants that third place experience, and sometimes they want convenience," Johnson told Business Insider. "We're not sacrificing one for the other, but it is a delicate balance."
Striking a balance means drawing from all of Starbucks' past eras — and the lessons Starbucks has learned from the jokes people tell.
The Roastery and Reserve stores are perhaps the obvious response to people mocking Starbucks. The new store formats, with their small-batch brews and siphoned coffee, are created to counter jokes about Unicorn Frappuccinos, Pumpkin Spice Lattes, and the increasingly basic nature of Starbucks. Schultz, who stepped down as CEO but will remain on the board, is at the helm of the project.
With the Roasteries, Starbucks has a chance to bring back the innovative, exotic Starbucks brand of the '90s but at a much larger scale. Schultz told Business Insider in October that the Roasteries have shown Starbucks that there is a "real opportunity" for Starbucks to create a "super-premium brand."
"As companies face the threat of e-commerce and mobile shopping, the burden of responsibility of the brick-and-mortar retailers is to create a very immersive, dynamic experience," he said.
But Starbucks needs to be more than super-premium. It also needs to be convenient, basic, Instagram-worthy, and more.
Can Starbucks have it all?
Johnson says that the biggest reason you don't hear jokes about "Starbucks in Starbucks' bathrooms" as much any more is that the company has changed what a Starbucks looks like, rolling out new store formats in recent years and with more in the works.
"Take everything from an express store on Wall Street that is very small square footage, small menu, and it's all for convenience. Customers walk up, we serve them their food and beverage quickly," Johnson said, listing store formats. "Then, it's our core Starbucks stores — the third place. Starbucks stores with drive-thrus. And now we've got Reserve bars and Reserve stores and Roasteries."
In essence, Schultz and Johnson have realized that as Starbucks became ubiquitous it picked up new types of customers, from snobs to basics. Wedged between fast-food chains and hip coffee shops, Starbucks' new strategy is to create different types of stores — all with an emphasis on customer service — that match up with different types of competitors. Express stores are as fast as any fast-food chain, while Roasteries serve beverages as complex as any indie shop.
"They're bringing back the coffee and bringing back the service," Nezder said about the proliferation of Starbucks formats. "I think it's brilliant. I think it's addressing the problem they've had for years."
Others aren't as convinced that Starbucks can pull of the balancing act.
"You can't be everything to everyone," said Gairthwaite, who is skeptical of Starbucks' ability to compete with smaller brands like Intelligentsia and Stumptown while continuing to meet the needs of the majority of customers. "They've always struggled with this idea that some people want the artistry and some people just want a drink."
Vlogger Bethany Mota may have best captured this Starbucks moment. Her video, "Types of People at Starbucks," which describes customers including the Secret Menu Snob, the Instagram Addict, and the Rude Customer, has racked up more 1.5 million views on YouTube. Starbucks' customers are increasingly visiting the chain for different reasons — and Starbucks is responding by trying to tailor its stores to all these needs.
"The problem with success is you get harder, more difficult problems to solve," Garthwaite said.
Perhaps the next Starbucks joke will be, who wants a low-fat Nitro Unicorn Pour-Over to go for $10?
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At this week's Facebook F8 conference in San Jose, Mark Zuckerberg doubled down on his crazy ambitious 10-year plan for the company, first revealed in April 2016.
Here's the current version of that roadmap, revealed by Zuckerberg this week:
Basically, Zuckerberg's uses this roadmap to demonstrate Facebook's three-stage game plan in action: First, you take the time to develop a neat cutting-edge technology. Then you build a product based on it. Then you turn it into an ecosystem where developers and outside companies can use that technology to build their own businesses.
When Zuckerberg first announced this plan last year, it was big on vision, but short on specifics.
On Facebook's planet of 2026, the entire world has internet access — with many people likely getting it through Internet.org, Facebook's connectivity arm. Zuckerberg reiterated this week that the company is working on smart glasses that look like your normal everyday Warby Parkers. And underpinning all of this, Facebook is promising artificial intelligence good enough that we can talk to computers as easily as chatting with humans.
A world without screens
For science-fiction lovers, the world Facebook is starting to build is very cool and insanely ambitious. Instead of smartphones, tablets, TVs, or anything else with a screen, all our computing is projected straight into our eyes as we type with our brains.
A mixed-reality world is exciting for society and for Facebook shareholders. But it also opens the door to some crazy future scenarios, where Facebook, or some other tech company, intermediates everything you see, hear, and, maybe even, think. And as we ponder the implications of that kind of future, consider how fast we've already progressed on Zuckerberg's timeline.
We're now one year closer to Facebook's vision for 2026. And things are slowly, but surely, starting to come together, as the social network's plans for virtual and augmented reality, universal internet connectivity, and artificial intelligence start to slowly move from fantasy into reality.
In fact, Michael Abrash, the chief scientist of Facebook-owned Oculus Research, said this week that we could be just 5 years away from a point where augmented reality glasses become good enough to go mainstream. And Facebook is now developing technology that lets you "type" with your brain, meaning you'd type, point, and click by literally thinking at your smart glasses. Facebook is giving us a glimpse of this with the Camera Effects platform, making your phone into an AR device.
Fries with that?
The potential here is tremendous. Remember that Facebook's mission is all about sharing, and this kind of virtual, ubiquitous "teleportation" and interaction is an immensely powerful means to that end.
This week, Oculus unveiled "Facebook Spaces," a "social VR" app that lets denizens of virtual reality hang out with each other, even if some people are in the real world and some people have a headset strapped on. It's slightly creepy, but it's a sign of the way that Facebook sees you and your friends spending time together in the future.
And if you're wearing those glasses, there's no guarantee that the person who's taking your McDonald's order is a human, after all. Imagine a virtual avatar sitting at the cash register, projected straight into your eyeballs, and taking your order. With Facebook announcing its plans to revamp its Messenger platform with AI features that also make it more business-friendly, the virtual fast-food cashier is not such a far-fetched scenario.
Sure, Facebook Messenger chatbots have struggled to gain widespread acceptance since they were introduced a year ago. But as demonstrated with Microsoft's Xiaoice and even the Tay disaster, we're inching towards more human-like systems that you can just talk to. And if Facebook's crazy plan to let you "hear" with your skin plays out, they can talk to you while you're wearing those glasses. And again, you'll be able to reply with just a thought.
If we're all living in this kind of semi-virtual world, it makes Facebook key to every interaction, and crucially, every financial transaction we conduct in that sphere. It could make the company a lot of money, certainly.
So yes, while it's still at least a decade off, this is all happening, little bit by little bit. But with Facebook facing fresh questions every day for its role in our personal lives and our political elections, it's also important to remember that much of this gives the social network — as well as companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft which all pursuing the same ends — unprecedented control over our conceptions of reality. It's time to ask these questions now, and not later.
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For real-time odds on the stock market's faith in President Donald Trump, look no further than recent weakness in industries most closely tied to his proposed policies: banks, builders, and retailers.
We're nearly 100 days into Trump's presidency, and the campaign promises of infrastructure spending, tighter restrictions on trade, and lower taxes have yet to materialize.
Additionally, Trump's first major legislative push, the American Health Care Act, failed to garner enough support among Republicans and was pulled from the House floor minutes before a vote.
The defeat on healthcare has led investors to worry that Trump's dealmaking may not be enough to advance his policies through Congress.
The market has not missed this lack of progress. Sectors that would theoretically benefit from Trump's policies, like industrials, have given back a chunk of their postelection gains, while those that would be hurt, like retail, have recently gotten a boost. These moves appear to be investors telling the president they haven't seen enough progress.
Massive investors like Bridgewater and firms like Bank of America aren't helping matters, having thrown cold water on the idea of a seamless implementation as recently as Wednesday.
Even financials, the golden child of the S&P 500 postelection rally that reached as high as 12%, have faltered of late. The same goes for companies that pay the most taxes. A quick glance at trading over the past couple of weeks shows investors are listening to the heavyweights who are now doubling as stock market naysayers.
Here's a further breakdown of the four areas serving as bellwether indicators for the health of the flagging Trump trade:
Investors are beginning to doubt Trump's plans to pass a tax cut that is the "biggest since Ronald Reagan."
The most highly taxed stocks in the US enjoyed a double-digit rally following the election on expectations that Trump would lower the corporate tax rate. During the campaign, the president suggested lowering the rate to 15% from 35%, a cut that would have an outsize impact on companies paying the most.
Since the election, however, Trump has backed off his 15% goal, telling manufacturing CEOs on February 9 the new rate would be "15% to 20%." Additionally, reports suggest that the tax plan could end up with a corporate rate as high as 28%.
Also, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin originally set a deadline of August for the tax overhaul, but Trump, Mnuchin, and top economic adviser Gary Cohn have walked back that promise.
This shift has led to skepticism regarding the promise, Bridgewater Associates said. In a client note on Wednesday, co-CIO Greg Jensen and senior investment associate Atul Narayan said they saw the tax rate landing closer to 25% and were generally anticipating "less impactful tax reform."
Also, count Bank of America among the nonbelievers. The firm conducted a survey, published Wednesday, finding that 21% of fund managers saw a delay in US tax reform as the biggest tail risk to economic growth, more than double from the prior month. As an extension of that, the number of fund managers expecting faster global growth over the next 12 months was "rolling over," according to the note on the survey from Michael Hartnett, BAML's chief investment strategist.
A 50-company basket of highly taxed companies maintained by Goldman Sachs climbed by as much as 14% following the election through March 1. But as skepticism around Trump's proposed measures has mounted, the gauge has fallen by 3.6% from March 1 through Wednesday's close.
Trump said he would spend $1 trillion on infrastructure, but the market isn't so sure it will happen.
Industrial stocks saw one of the US market's biggest spikes following the election, rising by 5.6% in just one week. It showed investors were putting serious faith in Trump's pledge to rebuild the country's infrastructure — an initiative that would have a wide-reaching effect not just on builders but also on engineering firms and raw-material producers.
Trump's campaign promise was to put $1 trillion toward infrastructure spending, and he recently held a meeting with corporate titans on the President's Strategic and Policy Forum regarding the proposed infrastructure spending.
There has been no definitive plans for the spending, and reports suggest the White House is planning to move the investment back to 2018 at the earliest.
In its Wednesday client note, Bridgewater expressed skepticism around the likelihood of immediate action, saying that it would be "slow and difficult to implement."
Stock investors would seem to agree. The S&P 500 Industrials Index, which gained as much as 14% after the election and reached a record high on March 1, has since dropped 3.1% amid mounting pessimism.
Trump repeatedly promised to knock out regulations on businesses, but the companies that would benefit the most are no longer outperforming.
No group benefited more from Trump's victory than financials, and a large part of that is due to expectations of looser regulation.
Trump signed an executive order on February 3 instructing the Treasury Department to look into changing or repealing the Dodd-Frank Act, the largest piece of post-financial-crisis regulation on banks. The president also said on April 4 he wanted to give Dodd-Frank a "haircut."
Despite this, no plans have advanced regarding Dodd-Frank, and members of the Trump administration including Mnuchin and Cohn have suggested that they support a new version of the Glass-Steagall Act that would separate commercial and investment banks.
Looser regulations would be music to JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon's ears. He took a shot at heightened post-financial-crisis regulation in a company earnings call on April 13, arguing that the complex web of government oversight had dampened banks' willingness to lend. Dimon called many of the new rules "hastily developed" and said the result has been a "complex, highly risky and unpredictable operating environment."
The S&P 500 Financials Index surged by as much as 26% after the election through March 1 to its highest level since the start of the bull market in March 2009. But as skepticism around Trump's proposed measures has mounted, the sector had slipped 8.5% from March 1 through Wednesday's close.
The effect of rising interest rates on financial shares should also be noted. The group's gains in the past six months are at least partially attributable to expectations that higher interest income will boost profits for lenders. The Federal Reserve has hiked rates twice since December and has a 73% chance of doing it again as soon as September, according to World Interest Rate Probability data provided by Bloomberg.
See the rest of the story at Business Insider
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President Donald Trump has a huge week ahead of him, and how it plays out will have a huge impact on the market.
Trump has indicated that he wants to tackle the repeal and replacement of Obamacare and introduce his "massive" tax plan in the next week, all while a shutdown of parts of federal government looms Friday.
By attempting three massive political undertakings in one week, investors will have a sense of whether or not Trump will be able to deliver on pro-growth policies that would be beneficial for markets.
If Trump can pull off the trifecta, it could restore faith that policy proposals like tax cuts and infrastructure spending are on the way. If not, look out.
Healthcare, tax cuts, and a shutdown. Oh my.
Trump has laid out an ambitious schedule of events for Congress in the next week.
After an initial defeat in March, the White House has indicated that it wants to bring a new version of the American Health Care Act to the floor of the House, possibly by Wednesday.
Even with a new amendment proposed by the leaders of two caucuses on either side of the Republican party — the conservative House Freedom Caucus and moderate Tuesday Group — it is unclear whether the bill will have enough support to make out out of the House.
Also, Trump told the Associated Press in an interview on Friday that he is targeting a Wednesday release date for his "massive" tax cut plan. Trump has said that he wants to bring the corporate tax rate down to 15%.
The move has long been the most anticipated by investors because slashing the corporate tax rate would likely lead to a major increase in corporate profit margins and justify the post-election rally in stocks.
Finally, there remains the huge risk of a possible government shutdown. If a continuing resolution or spending bill is not passed by the end of Friday, sections of the federal government could be without funding and shut down.
Conservatives, the White House, and Democrats all have demands for additions to the bill, according to reports. Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney even said the White House would trade $1 of funding for Obamacare to Democrats for $1 in funding for Trump's promised border wall.
These horse trading issues could throw a wrench in the negotiations, according to political research firm Compass Point's Issac Boltanksy and Lukas Davas.
"The border wall funding issue is just one of many policy potholes that could disrupt the funding negotiations including ACA cost-sharing subsidies, coal miner benefits, and sanctuary cities," Boltanksy and Davaz wrote in a note to clients on Friday.
Trump has laid out a huge undertaking that he plans to handle in one week, and any missteps could make investors very worried.
Trump trade already fading
Immediately following the election, the possibility of fiscal stimulus and tax cuts caused a massive jump in stock prices, particularly in those sectors like financials and industrials that would benefit the most from Trump's plans.
As we've reported, the so-called "Trump trade" has hit a wall recently and appears to be in danger of sputtering out.
Failure to deliver on next week's promises, especially avoiding a government shutdown, could be the straw that breaks the rally's back.
Republicans control both chambers of Congress and the White House, and so a shutdown would put into doubt the party's ability to pass any pro-growth reforms that investors want to see.
"Shutdowns can have a significant impact on the political standing of lawmakers involved," Ward McCarthy, chief financial economist at Jefferies wrote in a note on Tuesday.
"Considering that no full government shutdown has ever occurred while the same party controlled the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives, it would seem that Republicans would have some additional motivation to avoid the dubious distinction of having the government shut down on their watch."
The Washington Post reported that most experts peg the possibility of a shutdown at roughly 50/50 as it stands now, but investors disdain any amount of uncertainty.
The failure of the American Health Care Act and the pushback of tax reform already dented investor confidence, but a shutdown — something that has a hard deadline and immediate implications — would be even worse for Trump.
In a report following the failure of the AHCA, Compas Point's Issac Boltansky and Lukas Davaz said that the failure to pass a deal would throw the tax reform question further in doubt.
"In order to avoid a government shutdown, Speaker Ryan will have to cobble together a coalition, which will likely require assistance from Leader Pelosi given the Freedom Caucus’ expected demands," Boltansky and Davas wrote. "Furthermore, an inability to successfully navigate the April 28 federal funding deadline would be a staggering failure in basic governing and would therefore diminish our optimism regarding tax reform."
On the other hand, if Trump is able to deliver, the Trump rally could be back on.
"Congress still seems far apart on the spending plans they need to agree on in order to avoid a government shutdown on April 28th, but talk of a new healthcare bill suggests that maybe more progress is being made behind the scenes than we realized," McCarthy, chief financial economist at Jefferies, wrote in a note on Friday.
"Progress there could push the markets to higher rates as some optimism regarding Trump’s economic policies starts to filter back in to the consensus."
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But the global body believes protectionist policies could choke off improving global growth.
BERLIN (Reuters) - German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble is not worried by the prospect of cuts to corporate tax rates in the United States he told German magazine Wirtschaftswoche on the sidelines of the IMF and World Bank spring meetings in Washington.
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France is going to the polls on Sunday to vote in what is likely to be a highly contested presidential election. Four candidates, Emmanuel Macron, Marine Le Pen, Francois Fillon, and Jean-Luc Melenchon — are within percentage points of one another in the polls, but only two will advance to the run-off in May.
The election has markets on edge as two of the candidates, Le Pen and Melenchon, have campaigned on euro-skeptic platforms.
Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front party has said she would ask European leaders and the European Central Bank to replace the euro with a basket of new national currencies, in effect breaking up the single currency.
"The euro is not a currency," Le Pen said in February. "It is a political weapon to force countries to implement the policies decided by the [European Union] and keep them on a leash.
Melenchon, a far-left candidate, has been a little less abrasive. In his manifesto, he wrote he would "devalue the euro to its initial exchange rate against the dollar" if he were elected to office. He has since said that the recent drop in the euro-dollar exchange rate has it trading at an "acceptable" level.
In a somewhat eerie coincidence, the betting odds of either euro-skeptic candidate winning the presidency closely mirror those of the UK voting in favor of Brexit.
We all know how that turned out...
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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - International Monetary Fund members on Saturday dropped a pledge to fight protectionism amid a split over trade policy and turned their attention to another looming threat to global economic integration: the first round of France's presidential election.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump's promised "big announcement" next week on overhauling the U.S. tax code, a top campaign pledge, will consist of "broad principles and priorities," an administration official said on Saturday.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Saturday that the Trump administration's tax reform plan would produce some "short term issues" when viewed under traditional "static" budget analysis rules.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso said on Saturday trade imbalances cannot be fixed through exchange-rate adjustments alone, pushing back against Washington's calls to have more rigorous IMF scrutiny of currency moves.
Tech companies are expected to have the best earnings season in the S&P 500 this quarter.
Investors aren't taking any chances.
They're snapping up options that protect against a drop in the tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 index, pushing the cost of those hedges to the highest it's been since December.
It's a huge swing in sentiment in just seven weeks, when investors were the most unhedged on tech stocks since late 2014.
So what's changed? For one, first-quarter earnings growth forecasts have surged, with analysts now calling for 16% expansion, up from 10% at the start of March, according to a Bloomberg survey.
To investors, that degree of optimism is potentially dangerous should results come in below forecasts, which has driven investors to seek protection.
"There's heightened sensitivity going into this earnings season," Steve Sosnick, an equity risk manager at Timber Hill, the market-making unit of Greenwich, Connecticut-based Interactive Brokers Group, said in a phone interview. "If investors are going in with high expectations, it's that much easier to disappoint them. You're starting to see undercurrents of hedging, if not outright selling."
That investors would want to protect gains is not altogether surprising, considering the Nasdaq 100's 13% post-election surge. However, with the index all but flat over the past month, it's clear caution has been seeping into the tech sector for weeks.
That wariness also stems from lowered expectations around the effect of Donald Trump's proposed tax break for companies bringing overseas money back into the US, a concern rekindled by recent comments from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that reform measures won't happen by August. Companies in the tech industry have outsized overseas cash holdings relative to broader market, positioning them to benefit more from a lower repatriation rate that may not come for a while.
"Considering that the market’s rise post-election was based on tax reform, it makes sense that people are buying some protection as expectations are lowered," said Sosnick.
However, selling out of tech shares completely at this point would be a rash decision, at least if Wall Street strategists are to be believed.
The sector is the "correct place to be" as long as bond yields remain low, BAML chief investment strategist Michael Hartnett wrote in an April 14 client note. The yield on the US 10-year Treasury fell to a more than five month low on Tuesday.
Other firms share a similar view. Goldman Sachs chief equity strategist David Kostin has an overweight rating on tech, while Oppenheimer chief investment strategist John Stoltzfus recommends the sector receive the biggest allocation out of all S&P 500 sectors.
Still, investors can't be too safe heading into a period of event risk like earnings season, which is why latent skepticism is manifesting itself in hedges, said Sosnick.
They're paying a 9.2 percentage point premium to protect against a 10% decline in the PowerShares QQQ Trust Series ETF — which tracks the Nasdaq 100 — relative to bets on a 10% increase. The measure, known as skew, climbed to 9.3% on Tuesday, the highest since December 2, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
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One of the top stock exchanges in the US has launched a new venture investment program to find the creme de la crème in the fintech space.
Nasdaq announced the launch of Nasdaq Ventures, which will aim to find innovative financial technology firms with which they can collaborate, on April 20.
The program will invest between $1 million and $10 million and take minority stakes in the fintech ventures. Every potential investment will undergo "rigorous review," according to a news release out by the firm. An internal committee will be responsible for deciding the firms that best align with Nasdaq's goals and client needs.
"With the launch of our new venture investment program, we are reinforcing our focus on driving growth and innovation by evaluating, distributing, licensing and integrating disruptive technologies for the long-term benefit of our global clients," said Adena Friedman, Nasdaq's president and CEO, in a press release.
Gary Offner will head the new program. He joined Nasdaq at the beginning of this year, after running strategic investments for the equity division of Morgan Stanley.
During a Facebook Live interview with Jill Malandrino, the global markets reporter at Nasdaq, Offner said some of the first initiatives of the new program will focus on tackling some of the commonplace pain points facing Nasdaq's clients.
"And that can cover a number of different sectors," Offner said. "Content, data, analytics. It can cover machine learning applied to outsourcing initiatives ... there are a lot of opportunities."
Jean-Jacques Louis, senior vice president of corporate strategy at Nasdaq, said the company had been "really focused with putting ourselves on the cutting edge of technology, and how to really continue with delivering for our customers the best solution. And sometimes you have to go outside to see where innovation happens."
The new investment program is the latest chapter of Nasdaq's transformation from a US equities exchange to a diversified financial technology company. This is a move that has been viewed positively by Wall Street.
For instance, a group of equity analysts at UBS identified the firm as a favored pick among exchanges.
"Nasdaq's business mix has continued to evolve, and as investors continue to shift their perception of Nasdaq to more of a financial technology company, we think the multiple will continue to expand," the bank said.
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Young investors are piling into Snap.
The firm is among the top stocks of investors under 30 on the mobile trading app Robinhood. And the brokerage firm TDAmeritrade attributed a boost in activity during the first quarter of 2017 to a high number of Snap trades fueled by first-time traders.
In many ways, that's not surprising. Snapchat's users skew younger, and many individual investors like to invest in companies they interact with as consumers. For example, Facebook and Netflix, two other millennial favorites, are also popular on Robinhood.
But in one respect, Snapchat is very different from Netflix, Facebook, and pretty much every other publicly-traded company: Investors in Snapchat don't have any say in how the company they own is run.
Typically, shareholders can vote on big company decisions such as mergers, or for the election of new members to the company's board, or on executive compensation packages.
But that's not how Snap is structured. Instead, the stock Snap sold to investors in its initial public offering this year comes with no such rights.
So who has all the voting power?
Founders Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy, as well as a handful of original investors in the firm.
With a combined voting power of 88.5%, Spiegel and Murphy essentially have complete control over the company.
In the tech and media industries, it isn't unusual for company founders to wield more power than other shareholders. Instead of offering all investors one vote for one share, companies like Facebook and Google give Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, several votes for each share the own. It means that Zuckerberg accounts for about 60% of the voting power in Facebook even though he doesn't own that much of the company.
The argument for this is simple. Facebook wouldn't be Facebook without Zuckerberg, so investors ought to be okay with him having final say over key decisions.
Spiegel and Murphy get to keep the monopoly of power they hold over Snap, even if they leave the company.
According to the firm's SEC filing:
"Mr. Spiegel and Mr. Murphy, and potentially either one of them alone, have the ability to control the outcome of all matters submitted to our stockholders for approval, including the election, removal, and replacement of directors and any merger, consolidation, or sale of all or substantially all of our assets. If Mr. Spiegel’s or Mr. Murphy’s employment with us is terminated, they will continue to have the ability to exercise the same significant voting power and potentially control the outcome of all matters submitted to our stockholders for approval."
Many small investors don't care about what happens at shareholder meetings. They don't listen in on earning calls and they rarely vote against the board's recommendation.
You could argue that this is okay because the vote of a shareholder with just 10 or 100 shares doesn't matter much anyway.
But that's another thing about Snap. The huge institutions that own millions of dollars worth of its shares also have zero say.
As Jared Dillian of Mauldin Economics put it, "NBC Universal bought $500 million worth of stock, and Spiegel would be wise to listen to them, but if he doesn’t want to, he doesn’t have to."
Spiegel and Murphy don't have to listen to anyone. So, as Scott Galloway —a marketing professor at the NYU Stern School of Business and the founder of business intelligence firm L2 — put it, investors in Snap are essentially handing their money to two 20-somethings in the hopes that they alone can bring the social media company to new heights and viability.
"Investing in Snapchat is something that no one responsible should ever do. Snapchat is the equivalent of driving drunk," Galloway said in a recent interview with Business Insider.
"When you buy a share of Snapchat you're giving a 26-year-old money with absolutely no recourse," he added. "No shareholder rights whatsoever and you're investing in a company whose losses exceed its top-line and also has probably the world's most agile and competent company in the world — Facebook has decided that they will kill Snapchat no matter what."
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REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AP) -- When an Icelander arrives at an office building and sees "Solarfri" posted, they need no further explanation for the empty premises: The word means "when staff get an unexpected afternoon off to enjoy good weather."...
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Forget about French elections or the flagging Trump trade.