ANNOUNCER: This is NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT with Sue Herera and Bill Griffeth.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Attorney generals really care about where the rubber meets the road, and that is for the residents of their states and consumers. We also care about businesses, especially small businesses that may be locked out as a result of what may be monopolistic power.
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BILL GRIFFETH, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT ANCHOR: Sending a message. Almost every state joins an investigation into potential antitrust behavior at Google (NASDAQ:GOOG).
SUE HERERA, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT ANCHOR: Don`t look now. Stocks are slowly creeping back towards record levels. What investors need to keep in mind as the market grinds higher.
GRIFFETH: And to buy or not to buy? The fall housing season is underway and mortgage rates are falling. But bidding wars haven`t happened. What gives?
All that and much more tonight on NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT for Monday, September 9th.
HERERA: Good evening, everyone, and welcome.
Nearly all of the nation`s attorneys general are joining together and opening up an investigation into Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) over antitrust concerns. We told you last week about the possibility of a bipartisan probe into Google`s practices, but now we know the size and the scope.
And just Friday Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) said it received a request for information from the Justice Department about past investigations.
Ylan Mui has details of today`s announcement.
YLAN MUI, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT CORRESPONDENT: Fifty attorneys general are banding together to launch a sweeping antitrust investigation into Google (NASDAQ:GOOG). Standing in front of the Supreme Court, they voiced concern about the dominance of Google`s search platform but pledged a thorough and fair proceeding.
KEN PAXTON, TEXAS STATE ATTORNEGY GENERAL: This investigation is not a lawsuit. It is an investigation to determine the facts. And right now, we`re looking at advertising, but the facts will lead to where the facts lead.
MUI: Today, A.G.s also said they`re worried about privacy, search bias and whether Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) is buying up and locking out competitors.
Several A.G.s stressed that they support innovation, but questioned whether Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) has gone too far.
SEAN REYES, UTAH STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL: The question for us today is whether Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) has strayed from its founding principles to not do evil in its search and relentless drive to be the market dominant player.
MUI: But some experts caution the broad scope of this investigation could backfire.
JIMMY PETHOKOUKIS, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: If it`s — that these are bad for consumers, they`re going to have a very difficult case to make, which is why there has not been action at the federal level is that all the sides cannot figure out, we know what Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) is doing something wrong, we just can`t figure out exactly what it is.
MUI: Forty-eight states, along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have joined together in this effort. Only two states are not participating, Alabama and California, where Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) is headquartered. In a statement, California said that it remains deeply concerned and committed to fighting anticompetitive practices.
For NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT, I`m Ylan Mui in Washington.
HERERA: News of the investigation didn`t move the needle much on shares of Google`s parent company, Alphabet.
GRIFFETH: But you can make it four straight days of gains now for the Dow Jones Industrial Average as optimism remains over the upcoming trade talks, but a decline in technology shares kept a lid on gains in the broader market. The Dow rose just 38 points, Nasdaq dropped by 15, the S&P was essentially flat.
Mike Santoli gives us his current view of the market.
MIKE SANTOLI, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT CORRESPONDENT: The stock market finds itself back in a familiar face with a somewhat different view this time around. After climbing above its choppy August trading range last week, the S&P 500 has returned to its level from July 31st. And before that, at the start of the same month.
And since that point, both interest rates and investor sentiment have moved quite a bit. In late July, the 10-year treasury yield was above 2 percent. It is now around 1.6 percent after plunging under 1.5 in recent weeks as recession fears flared.
All this being equal, lower yields are good for stocks, so long as the economy isn`t entering a recession, which explains the 5 percent bounce from August lows. And a global rush for safe bonds and heated trade war volleys between the U.S. and China have worn on investor psychology far more than the 6 percent pullback in the S&P last month would suggest. This too is a potential positive for stocks as investor pessimism, evident in surveys and heavy withdrawals from stock funds often give way to relief rallies.
Now, for share stocks on their own are not particularly cheap. And, in fact, last year`s fourth quarter collapse started with the S&P at a similar valuation to what we`re seeing right now. But with U.S. economic data holding up better than feared and the U.S. Federal Reserve poised to cut rates this month, there is a chance that bond yields and investors belief in stocks overshot to the downside in August. Now, this doesn`t mean the volatility is over, but perhaps Wall Street is a bit better prepared now for the next jolt, wherever it might come from.
For NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT, I`m Mike Santoli at the New York stock exchange.
HERERA: So as the market heads higher, what should you be watching? Joining us to talk about is Barry James. He is president and portfolio manager at James Investment Research.
Welcome, Barry. Nice to see you again, as always.
What about Mike`s —
BARRY JAMES, JAMES INVESTMENT RESEARCH PRESIDENT: It`s great to be with you.
HERERA: What about Mike`s final point, that maybe this market is better prepared to handle the issues that haven`t gone away yet, the Fed and interest rates, Brexit and the trade war?
JAMES: Yes, we`ve had a chance to digest it, I think. And Mike`s point about sentiment being off right now, not too bullish, is a good sign that people have already maybe hit the exits that needed to hit the exits and it gives room for the market to go high. You know, you were talking about getting up to new highs. Shh, don`t tell anybody. Let`s keep it between ourselves so we can enjoy it.
GRIFFETH: Yes, but for that reason you are pretty cautious on this market from your own portfolio perspective. You`re still very defensive, aren`t you?
JAMES: We are. We`re about half stocked and half funds in our balanced accounts, and the types of stocks we`re buying are hopefully ones that can weather the storm on either side. The consumer is buying and we saw that today with the consumer credit numbers. People are certainly using their credit cards. So that side of the economy I think is going to be all right and that`s probably a good place to edge in.
But as we just heard on the technology side, you get into these — these, you know, these antitrust things, the same thing happened in 2000, 2001, and that wasn`t a very good time for the tech stocks. But they have been leading this advance so there maybe will be a move over into more sane types of securities.
HERERA: What are you anticipating from the fed, and how might it affect the market as we edge, you know, daily closer to the next Fed meeting?
JAMES: Yes. They have given every indication they`re going to be cutting probably multiple times yet this year. And as long as they follow that path, which everybody expects, I think the market will be steady as she goes. If they don`t do it, that might cause a little bit of fear. And if they do too — you know, very large change, then people will be worried about recession.
But I think they`re just kind of steady as she goes, bring down those short-term rates because they`re really kind of out of whack with the rest of the bond market.
GRIFFETH: They are, but we`ve been hearing from banks today and lately that those rates are cutting into their net interest margins. It`s hurting their loan portfolio. I mean, all these other areas — we talk about those parts of the economy that benefit from lower rates but there are still plenty parts of the economy that don`t, right?
JAMES: Yes. The banks make it on the spread between short-term and longer-term lending and that`s pretty narrow right now. So they`re looking for fees in other areas. That`s you and me.
GRIFFETH: Right, right.
JAMES: That they`re trying to get those fees from where they can`t get it on the spread, as it were. So they`re kind of trying to come up with different products and different services that they can charge us for. I`m not too worried about the big banks, I`ll be honest. I`m really not.
HERERA: All right. What would you recommend in terms of being somewhat defensive? Give me a couple of sectors that you like.
JAMES: Sure. I would go with the consumers, especially noncyclical types of stocks. That would be, you know, like the Krogers of the world or even on the consumer side, the Walmarts. They are going to continue to have very, very good business.
I would say some things that are sure to keep showing up at your doorstep are the waste collectors like Republic. We like them pretty well.
And, you know, also look at the real estate area. Some pockets in the real estate area like public storage and things like that look pretty good.
HERERA: Barry James with James Investment Research, thanks.
GRIFFETH: A fifth person died over the weekend from that mysterious lung illness apparently related to vaping. And today, the American Medical Association urged the public to avoid e-cigarette use altogether until more can be learned. In the meantime, the government is getting involved and the industry is on notice.
Aditi Roy has more from San Francisco.
ADITI ROY, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT CORRESPONDENT: The heat is on e- cigarette companies, as federal regulators hike pressure on the industry amid rising reports of vaping-linked lung illnesses.
The FDA today issued a warning letter to Juul over its marketing practices, saying the company has represented that Juul products present a lower risk of tobacco-related disease or are less harmful than one or more other commercially marked tobacco products. Juul has 15 days to respond.
The FDA letter comes after the CDC warned people last week to stop using e- cigarettes amid hundreds of cases nationwide of vaping-linked lung illnesses. So far the agency is investigating 450 cases across 33 states. Five deaths have been reported. Many of the cases involve THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, or a combination of THC and nicotine. A small number involved just nicotine products.
Former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb says the root of the problem could be black market products.
SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: It doesn`t look like these are legitimate legally sold vapes that contain nicotine products sold by the big brands. Those are not safe. They still can cause harm. We believe they can cause chronic lung injury with prolonged use, but it doesn`t appear that they`re causing the kind of acute lung reactions we`re seeing right now.
ROY: Juul says it`s been monitoring the situation closely, adding that its products don`t include THC, any compound derived from cannabis or vitamin E compounds like those found in THC products.
Meantime, Juul is working on its application to keep selling e-cigarettes in the U.S. That deadline is next May.
For NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT, I`m Aditi Roy, San Francisco.
HERERA: Up next, lobster dealers are boiling mad.
CONTESSA BREWER, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT CORRESPONDENT: These Maine distributors are in a kind of lobster jail, trapped by tariffs. I`ll have the story ahead on NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT.
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GRIFFETH: Maine`s lobster industry has invested heavily to open the Chinese market, but now that new tariffs have gone into effect, Contessa Brewer tells us how much the group is feeling the pinch.
As you saw, she`s in Arundel, Maine, for us tonight.
BREWER: Stephanie Nadeau`s space is small but the lobster company does big business and, well, lobster.
STEPHANIE NADEAU, THE LOBSTER CO. OWNER: I primarily export lobster.
BREWER: And when the Maine lobster industry worked to open up Chinese markets, Stephanie was right there, investing, expanding, ramping up to meet the newly voracious appetite for U.S. lobster.
NADEAU: We were doing half our business with China. And this place would have been rocking and rolling. We had basically a 24-hour operation.
BREWER: But since last supper, Stephanie`s sales have plummeted by half. She`s cut hours and workers, the impact of a trade war and China slapping tariffs on American lobster.
NADEAU: July 6, 2018, it all came to a screeching halt. And we didn`t really sell any more lobsters to China.
BREWER: She`s not alone. The overall U.S. lobster industry has seen its exports to China plummet 60 percent the first half of this year, compared to the same time frame last year before tariffs went into place. And now, China has just tacked on more tariffs, now totaling 35 percent on American lobster.
You know who`s benefitting in this whole trade war between the U.S. and China? Canada.
ANNIE TSELIKIS, MAINE LOBSTER DEALERS ASSOCIATION EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: It`s the same product on the northern side of the border as it is here in the state of Maine. And so, the opportunity just presented themself to them and they`re capitalizing on it.
BREWER: Canada`s lobster business in China has jumped 40 percent this year, and Canada has signed a free trade agreement with the European Union that will facilitate its lobster there. The U.S. has no such agreement.
In the meantime, U.S. lobster exports to Canada have jumped 130 percent. Sources on both sides of the border tell us they believe Maine lobster is being shipped from Canada to China, thereby avoiding tariffs. The premium on selling lobster to Canada is not even close to what they make selling to China, so no matter how you crack it open, the Maine dealers are losing money.
NADEAU: Most people`s pockets aren`t deep enough to sit around and take a 50 percent hit to your business waiting for it to return.
BREWER: The Lobster Company in the midst of a trade war trapped by tariffs, and not knowing when it will end.
In Arundel, Maine, Contessa Brewer, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT.
HERERA: An activist investor calls for a shake-up at AT&T (NYSE:T), and that`s where we begin tonight`s “Market Focus”.
Elliott Management, which is taking a more than $3 billion stake in AT&T (NYSE:T), wrote a letter questioning that company`s acquisition strategy and called on it to cut unnecessary assets to improve its business. The hedge fund is also seeking seats on AT&T`s board. AT&T (NYSE:T) shares rose about 1.5 percent to $36.79.
Cable operator Altice is looking to join the wireless industry by offering customers unlimited mobile service for $20 a month. The new unit will use AT&T (NYSE:T) and Sprint`s wireless networks to deliver its service and the company`s CEO says the price is guaranteed for life. Shares dropped nearly 2.5 percent to $28.43.
UPS is planning to hire about 100,000 seasonal workers for the holidays. The hires make between $14 and $30 an hour as UPS expects a record season for daily package deliveries during its peak shipping season. Shares were up more than 1 percent to $121.66.
GRIFFETH: Acadia pharmaceutical shares just soared today after the latest trial of its Parkinson`s treatment showed promise on patients with dementia. So, Acadia now plans to meet with the FDA next year to add dementia to that drug`s list of applications. And shares skyrocketed more than 63 percent today to $38.85.
Target (NYSE:TGT) plans to roll out a revamped loyalty program called Target (NYSE:TGT) Circle. That will be nationwide next month. The free program offers perks like 1 percent cash back on Target (NYSE:TGT) purchases and early access to sales. Other retailers like Macy`s (NYSE:M), Nordstrom (NYSE:JWN) and Kohl`s (NYSE:KSS) have also been investing heavily in their loyalty offerings. Target (NYSE:TGT) shares, though, fell about 2 percent today to $107.95.
And Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) hiked its rating on energizer to a buy rating today, saying that the challenges facing the battery maker are known and the firm has confidence that Energizer can turn things around. Energizer shares spiked nearly 7 percent today to $43.46.
HERERA: Well, with Labor Day in the rear-view mirror, the fall housing market is just getting under way. And the competition is — well, a bit weaker than you`d expect given today`s rock-bottom mortgage rates, giving early signs that buyers may have the upper hand.
Diana Olick explains why.
DIANA OLICK, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT CORRESPONDENT: At a Sunday open house in Dallas, Texas, there were plenty of potential buyers for this four bedroom Tudor listed at nearly $1.4 million, but not a whole lot of pressure.
DARRELL SMITH, PROSPECTIVE HOME BUYER: For a while, it was just a very, very hot market. It was really a seller`s market for a while. I think it`s just kind of cycling.
OLICK: And that`s why Darrell and Carrie (ph) Smith are taking their time deciding whether to buy a larger home or enlarge their current one. They worry less about buyer competition and more about the economy.
SMITH: Any kind of recession could be — you know, could affect our incomes. We don`t know for sure. But it`s something that we have to consider.
OLICK: The Smiths are not alone in their concern. Ironically, investor concern is what`s behind the drop in more mortgage rates, which are a full percentage point lower than they were a year ago. That should help sellers but apparently it`s not. There are far fewer bidding wars today than just a year ago.
KELLEY MCMAHON, COMPASS REALTY: I think people are a little more cautious to pull the trigger.
In order to really sell a home quickly and for the best value you`re going to get right now, you really need to price it correctly, because it hasn`t — it`s not a seller`s market right now.
OLICK: Consumer sentiment in housing improved in August, according to a monthly survey from Fannie Mae, mainly because a lot more people think mortgage rates will keep falling. But other components of the survey were not so rosy. Fewer people think now is a good time to buy or sell a home and more are worried about losing their job in the next year.
Dustin Collins and his wife have a new baby but they`re not willing to rush into a new house.
DUSTIN COLLINS, PROSPECTIVE HOME BUYER: Knowing the frenzy is over and we`ll be able to find — it`s more about finding the right house for us than paying a little too much for it maybe. So, I feel now that houses are sitting a little longer, it just gives us a little more of an opportunity to find the house we want.
OLICK: The house they want with a price that fits well within their comfort zone.
For NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT, I`m Diana Olick in Washington.
GRIFFETH: Let`s turn to Skylar Olsen now to talk more about the fall housing market. She`s senior economist at Zillow.
Welcome back. Good to see you again.
SKYLAR OLSEN, ZILLOW SENIOR ECONOMIST: Yes, thanks for having me.
GRIFFETH: The one group that you`re most concerned about or you see the greatest hesitation are those first-time buyers. Why? What do you think is going on there?
OLSEN: Yes. Well, the entry level housing market is where we saw kind of the most abrupt slowdown through this past home shopping season. Now, that doesn`t — you know, to be honest, it`s still a more competitive segment of the housing market in general than, say, top-tier homes, but the change, right, moving from the beginning of the home shopping season where things were really still competitive to now where things have slowed down pretty significantly, right. Existing home sales on entry level housing have fallen off a lot and it`s causing a little bit more inventory in that segment in the sense that things are taking longer to sell.
Overall in August, one out of every six listings on the market had an official price drop. That`s a big suggestion here that demand is continuing to pull back despite low interest rates because really it`s about the down payment, right? It`s about the fact that home values got so far out of pace with incomes that keeping up that saving, that`s hard to do.
HERERA: You know, Diana Olick detailed some of the reasons why in her research why she found things slowing down. Given one in six homes got a price cut, what else is behind the dramatic slowdown in your opinion in the market?
OLSEN: You know, I mean it`s greater uncertainty, right? I think it`s pretty clear kind of across the board that the housing market right now is in a transition. That`s causing a few people just to hesitate. So, it`s really a good time to buy, depending on who you are right now, right?
If you`re fairly confident that your income will persist, you know, if you`re — say you`re in a job market that you are assuming will be a bit more insulated from any recessions coming down the pipe, maybe a little bit more insulated from, you know, the trade war, something like that, you have a lot of confidence and you already saved for that down payment. Well, then, yes, now`s a great time. If that`s not you, more and more, as there`s more and more uncertainty in markets, that`s a greater share of potential buyers. You know, the alternatives are starting to look more attractive, right?
If interest rates are low —
OLSEN: — that means cash out refis are also cheaper, maybe I put an addition on my home instead of turning to the housing market to find another option, you know? So, right now, housing markets in transition are really it`s an uncertain time. When things are uncertain, it`s hard to have a lot of confidence in one of the largest purchases that you will make in your lifetime. And that`s causing housing markets to, you know, take a step back.
GRIFFETH: With these hesitations comes some opportunity. Where do you see the best opportunities geographically around the country right now, Skylar?
OLSEN: Yes. Yes, right now, housing markets are still appreciating at a fairly fast clip in places like Salt Lake City, Indianapolis, Charlotte, North Carolina. What do these places have? They have fairly successful job markets, but really they`re still at price points that are attainable for buyers, for first-time home buyers as opposed to the markets that we`ve seen over the past few months where home values were falling.
GRIFFETH: All right.
OLSEN: Places like San Jose, San Francisco, Seattle, right?
OLSEN: So, now, really, a flight to affordability is where you`re still seeing buyer interest.
GRIFFETH: OK. Skylar Olsen with Zillow, always good to see you. Thanks for joining us.
OLSEN: Yes, thank you so much.
HERERA: Up next, how one U.S. university hedged against a trade war.
GRIFFETH: Finally tonight, the ripples of the trade war are trickling down to some of the nation`s universities as students head back to school. Colleges are bracing for a decline in Chinese students and the billions in revenue that they traditionally bring with them.
But as Robert Frank tells us now, one college had the foresight to protect itself with insurance.
ROBERT FRANK, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT CORRESPONDENT: As colleges and universities brace for a decline in the number of Chinese students, one school has found a solution, insurance. There are more than 360,000 students from China who study in the U.S. every year, a number that is now under threat as the trade war makes visas and jobs for Chinese nationals harder to get.
But the University of Illinois is prepared. Two years ago, the university`s business school and the engineer school bought an insurance policy that would pay out if there`s a substantial drop in revenues from Chinese students. Now, it`s unclear if it will be triggered this year since the student numbers are still rolling in, but the population of Chinese students at the university fell for the first time last year.
And Chinese student visas are falling nationally. The insurance was the brain child of Jeff Brown, an economist whose research focuses on insurance and risk management. When he became the dean of the business school in 2015, he worried about a potential drop in the university`s more than 5,000 Chinese students who pay twice the tuition of in-state students.
JEFFREY BROWN, GIES COLLEGE OF BUSINESS DEAN: This was really, from my perspective, just good risk management practices, which is that we recognize that we had substantial exposure to a single country.
FRANK: Brown and another professor, Morton Lane, who structures insurance products, helped create a policy with $61 million in coverage, equal to the Chinese student revenue at the two colleges.
MORTON LANE, GRAINGER COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING: We did a great thing. It was quite original.
FRANK: The insurance pays out if revenues fall more than 18.5 percent. So if it falls 20 percent, they get a $12 million payout. The premium is $424,000 a year and the policy was syndicated through underwriters at the Lloyd`s of London.
LANE: Some of the reason it took as long as it did to get in place was neither the underwriters nor the procurement people at the university had seen a policy like this before.
FRANK: Other schools have looked into getting their own policy, but given the trade war it has become far too expensive. Brown says while he`s happy they have the insurance, he hopes never to file a claim, and the school wants to keep growing its Chinese and overseas students to thrive in an increasingly global world.
BROWN: The best insurance policy is the one that you don`t end up needing, right? No one is ever unhappy that their house didn`t burn down just because they paid premiums on a homeowner`s insurance policy.
FRANK: Chinese students at the university told us that beyond worrying about visas and political rhetoric, they are more worried about getting jobs here after they graduate.
SHUMIN LIU, ACTUARIAL SCIENCE SENIOR: I don`t know if it will impact me like finding a job here. Not many companies will sponsor international students.
FRANK: For NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT, I`m Robert Frank.
HERERA: Here`s a look at the final numbers from Wall Street today. The Dow rose 38 points, Nasdaq dropped 15, S&P 500 was flat.
And that is NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT for tonight. I`m Sue Herera. Thanks for joining us.
GRIFFETH: I`m Bill Griffeth. Have a great evening. See you tomorrow.
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