SUE HERERA, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT ANCHOR: Building a foundation. It’s probably the biggest purchase you’ll ever make and a lot of Americans bought new homes last month. But there’s more to the data than meets the eye.
TYLER MATHISEN, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT ANCHOR: Payouts at risk? Freeport McMoRan slashes its dividends, citing low oil prices. So, will others follow?
HERERA: Don’t leave home without it. American Express (NYSE:EXPR) (NYSE:AXP) CEO addresses investors tomorrow. And after a string of hits, the pressure is on for him to outline a fix.
All that and more tonight on NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT, for Tuesday, March 24th.
MATHISEN: Good evening, everyone, and welcome.
The Federal Reserve today didn’t exactly get the definitive economic signals it might like to have. The Fed has said it will be data-dependent in deciding when and what pace it will raise interest rates.
And today’s data were not definitive. Consumer prices measuring everything from rent payments to cost of a new shirt rose 0.2 percent in February. That’s the most in four months. It was merely in line with expectations and flat from a year ago.
The Fed would like to see price inflation pick up a bit. It didn’t. What did was the sale of new homes last month. The Commerce Department reports newly built home sales soared nearly 8 percent, highest level since early 2008. Strong headline number also sent shares of home builders higher, including KB Home (NYSE:KBH), Pulte, Toll Brothers (NYSE:TOL) and Lennar (NYSE:LEN).
But as Diana Olick reports, there’s a back story to the bump on those new home sales.
DIANA OLICK, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT CORRESPONDENT: Stocks of the nation’s homebuilders soared on news of an expected jump in February sales. And while it was a welcome improvement, it needs a bit of perspective.
MARK HANSON: We’re trending slightly higher. We’re still 40 percent, 50 percent below 30-year averages.
OLICK: February sales of newly built homes hit the highest pace in 7 years at 539,000 for the year. But seven years ago, housing had just undergone an epic boom to bust, and now, the industry is absolutely building fewer homes than it was 15 years ago. And that’s with 11 percent more people living in the U.S.
That is benefitting the bigger wealth capitalized public companies like TRI Pointe Homes.
DOUGLAS BAUER, TRI POINTE HOMES: Our orders are up 59 percent through February and what we’re seeing is the consumer that wasn’t engaged last year is engaged this year.
OLICK: But the overall number for housing start is still anemic, largely because builders who make up 50 percent of the market are still facing hurdles.
BAUER: They are somewhat capital constraint. So, that may something to do with the overall starts and permit data.
OLICK: The supply of existing homes for sale is also far lower today than it was in 2000. Again, with that population growth. So, builders’ sales are likely getting a boost simply because there are so few homes altogether on the market.
So, while February sales were good for the builders, the nation simply needs more houses. With supply so tight going into the heart of the spring season, prices have nowhere to go but up, which will price ever more buyers out.
For NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT, I’m Diana Olick in Washington.
HERERA: On Wall Street, stocks drifted lower, dropping for a second day, putting the brakes on the recent march towards new highs. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at the lowest of the session, falling 104 points to 18,011. NASDAQ sank 16, falling below the 5,000 level and the S&P 500 dropped almost 13 points.
As for treasuries, the yield on the 10-year also pulled back, remaining below the key 2 percent mark. And West Texas Intermediate eked out just a small gain, settling up 6 cents to $47.51. Brent Crude fell 1.5 percent.
MATHISEN: Well, the steep 9-month decline in oil prices is the reason why Freeport McMoRan, a cooper miner and diversified energy company, is slashing its dividend 84 percent. The company says it will curb spending on oil and gas projects. And that pressured sales which finished the day lower as you see there by about 3/4 of 1 percent. Investors may wonder if other energy companies will follow Freeport’s lead.
But as Bob Pisani reports, cutting dividends doesn’t really happen all that often.
BOB PISANI, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT CORRESPONDENT: Copper and gold giant Freeport McMoRan dramatically cut its dividend today in response to the impact of lower community prices. That maybe understandable, but it’s a fairly rare event. Companies do not like to cut their dividends.
Besides Freeport, there’s only two other companies in the S&P 500 that have cut their dividends this year and they’re both energy companies, Drillers Ensco and Diamond Offshore. That’s important because investors put money into energy stocks because they have a fairly high dividend yield. BP, for example, has a 6 percent dividend yield, Conoco 4.7 percent, Chevron (NYSE:CVX) 4.1 percent, ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) 3.2 percent. That’s a lot better than S&P 500 as whole, which only has a 2 percent yield.
So, any talk of cutting dividends, particularly in energy stocks, gets a certain class of investors very nervous. Exxon is a very sensitive case in particular. They’re the biggest payer of dividends in the United States. They pay $11.6 billion a year in dividends. That’s more than Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), which pays $11 billion, and more than Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), which pays $10.2 billion.
Moreover, Exxon has raised its dividend every year for 32 straight years. And since 2007, they’ve chosen the raise the dividends in the month of April. So, it’s only a few days away and with worries about dividend cuts in energy stocks, all eyes are going to be focused on Exxon.
What are they going to do? Wall Street anticipates they’ll continue what that I’ve always done, raise the dividend, even if more modestly than in the past. They’re likely even resort to cutting capital spending before they cut the dividend. But there’s a little more drama this year than in the past.
For NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT, I’m Bob Pisani at the New York Stock Exchange.
HERERA: So, are any other dividends in the energy industry at risk and what do investors need to know?
We’re joined by John Stephenson, CEO of Stephenson and Company Capital Management.
John, welcome. Nice to have you here.
JOHN STEPHENSON, STEPHENSON AND COMPANY CAPITAL MANAGEMENT: Well, thanks, Sue. Nice to be here.
HERERA: I guess that is the question. I mean, is Freeport the exception rather than the rule in this environment?
STEPHENSON: I think pretty much so. I mean, keep in mind Freeport is a cooper company with an oil and gas arm bolted on the side. And, of course, their timing for getting in the oil and gas was pretty much at the top of the market and then, as you know — I mean, really, over the last 9 months or so, this 50 percent slashing in oil prices.
So, their timing couldn’t possibly be worse and, of course, coincides with a drop in copper prices as well.
MATTHEWS: Are you expecting any of the majors to cut their dividends starting with Exxon?
STEPHENSON: Yes, Tyler. I don’t think so, especially not Exxon. I think they have a fabulous record. Chevron (NYSE:CVX) also should be able to hold up their dividend as well going forward.
Many of these companies have their capital expenditure greatly reduced going forward. They’re doing a lot of large building in terms of their production operations over the next year or so. But that really falls off in 2016. So, they can get to it this year, they’ll be fine. I think most of them will.
I think the only one that potential has some risk is Occidental. Its balance sheet looks a little worse than the other majors. But certainly, Conoco, Exxon and Chevron (NYSE:CVX), I’m not expecting anything on the dividend front from a cutting perspective.
HERERA: What are you expecting, though, in terms of oil prices? Because that will determine the bottom lines of many of the companies that we’re talking about. Are we closer to a bottom do you think, or do you agree with those who are looking for dramatically prices from here?
STEPHENSON: Well, I don’t think dramatically lower but I think we could touch in the 30s before this is all said and done. And the reason for this is couple-fold.
One, production continues to grow in the U.S. and around the world. So, we’re currently outstripping demand. So, that’s an issue. We have to curb production.
Two, inventories are very high and then, of course, those inventories have to be bled off, turned into products. You know, gasoline and heating fuel, et cetera. And that will pressure oil prices.
So, I’m expecting oil prices to bottom by the end of this, the next quarter by the end of June, and then I look for it to firm. So, I could see some softness in the equities and that will be compensating investors who were willing to wait a little bit before jumping in it. They’ll buy it at a lower price, Exxon, Chevron (NYSE:CVX), some of the others.
MATHISEN: Is that softness the opportunity that an investor who might like to nibble in energy should wait for and when the time comes, what would you buy, what would you say to avoid or sell?
STEPHENSON: OK. That’s great question, Tyler.
Yes, I think it is a great opportunity to wait a little bit if you’re not yet in the market or looking to invest because the yields, I believe, are sustainable, and they’ll likely be higher when — if prices fall. So, I’d be looking to buy Chevron (NYSE:CVX) and Conoco and avoid Occi and Exxon simply because it has such high valuation relative to the others, even though I think the dividend is sustainable.
If you want to go a little further afield, actually Royal Dutch Shell looks very attractive, has higher yields, and so — and Total as well. Some of the international majors look very attractive.
HERERA: So, let’s just go over it again. You buy the integrated oils and you sell the others, correct?
HERERA: You sell the oil services, the exploration, and also, the production companies.
STEPHENSON: Yes. I think you want to be, avoid exploration production companies. They’re higher data or higher risk. They tend to move more dramatically with oil prices.
Integrated oil companies have a refining arm and a marketing arm. And that makes them much more defensive because refining margins actually expand when oil prices are low. So, that’s a natural offset to lower oil prices.
And so, that’s where you want to go. You want to be more defensive. Be want to be in the integrated oil and gas camp, which is, you know, in the U.S., it’s Exxon, Chevron (NYSE:CVX), Conoco, Occidental Petroleum (NYSE:OXY), and I would hygrate (ph) to Chevron (NYSE:CVX) and Conoco in that group.
And I would avoid production companies or independent refiners, but that would be the way to avoid. And you want to avoid the drillers, absolutely, because that’s an area that the majors are cutting back on. They’re reducing capital expenditure.
HERERA: John, thank you so much.
STEPHENSON: You’re most welcome.
HERERA: John Stephenson with Stephenson and Company Capital Management.
MATHISEN: Another energy company, Sue, saw its shares fall and fall hard today. Whiting Petroleum (NYSE:WLL) announced a major equity offering. It’s selling debt, which is raising concerns about the oil and gas producer’s ability to find a buyer for the company. Whiting joins others shale producers that have issued more shares to gassy up balance sheets. Whiting Petroleum (NYSE:WLL) is the largest oil producer in North Dakota’s Bakken shale region and its shares fell almost 19 percent today.
HERERA: And now to a blue chip company, American Express (NYSE:EXPR) (NYSE:AXP), which is looking a little black and blue these days. The payments giant lost some key business recently, prompting some to ask if the company has lost its way. And that is the question CEO Ken Chenault will likely have to answer during the firm’s investor day tomorrow.
Mary Thompson takes a look at what’s ailing American Express (NYSE:EXPR) (NYSE:AXP).
MARY THOMPSON, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Its cards, a fixture in millions of wallets, the company in need of a fix.
BILL CARCACHE, NOMURA HOLDINGS: The biggest threat that American Express (NYSE:EXPR) (NYSE:AXP) faces is, I think, is instilling confidence in the investment community that its business model is not broken.
THOMPSON: CEO Ken Chenault is looking to do just that at the firm’s investor day Wednesday. A long-term holding of the billionaire investor, Warren Buffett, the firm has run into recent trouble. Its stock is the third worst performer in the Dow over the last 12 months, and it has lost and is now appealing an anti-trust suit brought by the Justice Department. It also lost a co-branding relationship with JetBlue and come January, analysts Chris Donat points out it loses profits and its status as the only card accepted at Costco (NASDAQ:COST) stores.
CHRISTOPHER DONAT, ANALYST: There’s no way around it. That’s a big loss. When you combine Canada with the U.S., you get to a number that looks like it’ pretty close to 10 percent of earnings.
THOMPSON: When he speaks to investors, Chenault needs to lay out his plan to recruit those loss profits by the firm’s deadline of 2017.
Analyst Bill Carcache sees cost-cutting being the primary tool Chenault uses as it’s helped AmEx lift profits in the past.
CARCACHE: The reason why they’ve been able to, you know, drive revenue growth in excess of expense growth, and get that positive operating leverage in part is because of expense control. And I think going forward, there’s still more expense leverage left.
THOMPSON (on camera): Along with cost cuts, analysts see buybacks and higher income from loan balances as part of the plan. They also anticipate AmEx will ask merchant partners to take on some of the cost of the rewards programs, something retailers maybe open to because of AmEx’s biggest asset, its high spending client base.
DONAT: When you look at the annual spending on an American Express (NYSE:EXPR) (NYSE:AXP) card, it’s in the neighborhood of about $15,000. When you compare that to like a Discover card or cards of other major issuers, it tends to be three or four times larger.
THOMPSON (voice-over): AmEx’s clients are loyal, too. And that customer base is what analysts bet will be the platform the firm builds on to bring the business back to where it was.
For NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT, I’m Mary Thompson.
MATHISEN: China’s manufacturing fell to the lowest level in nearly a year, as new orders shrank. That according to a new report out today that weak reading adds to signs that the world’s second largest economy lost momentum. Despite hiking interest rates, reducing bank reserves and attempts by the country’s central bank to reduce financing costs.
HERERA: But on the flip side, the Eurozone’s modest recovery seems to be gathering some momentum. Business activity in the 19-member countries hit a nearly 4-year high and Germany, which is the largest economy in the Eurozone saw its business activity grow to its best level in eight months.
MATHISEN: Still ahead, will a high profile legal case in Silicon Valley shatter the glass ceiling? We’ll tell you what’s at stake.
MATHISEN: One of Wall Street’s most powerful women is heading to Silicon Valley. Ruth Porat, Morgan Stanley’s chief financial officer, will join Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) in the same role. Porat starts in late May. Some say the move may be a sign that Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) is looking to rein in expenses, after embarking on a number of ambitious projects. Shares of Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) up 2 percent today.
HERERA: As Ruth Porat takes a new role at Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), the lack of women in Silicon Valley is getting renewed attention. Today, closing arguments begun in a high profile case that alleges venture capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers discriminated against former employee Ellen Pao due to her gender. And that’s not the only case of gender discrimination, alleged discrimination.
Julia Boorstin in San Francisco now examines the issue and what’s being done about it.
JULIA BOORSTIN, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Venture capitalist fund Kleiner Perkins isn’t the only one in Silicon Valley under fire for gender discrimination. Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) and Twitter both hit by lawsuits in the past week, alleging gender discrimination.
And employment attorney Lawrence Pearson says this is just the beginning.
LAWRENCE PEARSON, EMPLOYMENT ATTORNEY: They will encourage other people to come forward and I think also wakes up Silicon Valley and really the rest of corporate America as well to the fact that they need to pay attention to these issues.
BOORSTIN: While COO Sheryl Sandberg advocates for women to lean in and for companies to be more inclusive, even she says all of Silicon Valley needs to do better.
Part of the problem, Silicon Valley has a reputation for being a boys club. Last June, Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) reported 69 percent of its overall global workforce is male, right in line with Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), and Twitter, all reporting a 70 percent male workforce. Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO), 62 percent male.
At Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), women comprised at 23 percent at senior ranks, though that’s better than the average. They’re just 11 percent of executives as Silicon Valley’s top 150 companies. That’s 5 percentage points less than the average at the S&P 500, according to a report by Fenwick and West.
MELISSA HART: There is a vicious cycle that needs to be broken and it’s not — it’s something that will require really conscious active thought by current decision makers and leaders.
BOORSTIN (on camera): These companies are key trading grounds for entrepreneurs and venture capital investors. So, industry watchers say improving the numbers of the tech giants is key to driving up quality across the whole industry. And Silicon Valley is rising to the challenge.
(voice-over): Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) is addressing the lack of female engineers with a $300 million diversity and technology initiative to train and recruit female and other underrepresented groups of computer scientists.
HART: I think most importantly for companies, having women leaders, having women involved in decision making actually leads to better decision making.
BOORSTIN: Cisco’s John Chambers implored his executives to read “Lean In” and make the company more diverse. It tries to attract a diverse mix to the training programs it spends $200 million on annually. Chambers points to the three women on Cisco’s board and five women on its operating committee as examples.
(on camera): All of these initiatives have one thing in common, the belief that increasing gender diversity isn’t just good for women, it’s good for business.
For NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT, I’m Julia Boorstin in San Francisco.
MATHISEN: Sonus Networks (NASDAQ:SONS) slashing current quarter guidance, and that is where we begin tonight’s “Market Focus”.
The outlook rather dull comes as the communications company says it doesn’t expect to receive some orders that it had counted on. It’s also planning to review its cost structure. Shares down — get this — 34 percent today to $8.70.
IHS (NYSE:IHS) is cutting its profit and sales outlook for the year. The information and analytics company blamed headwinds from slumping energy prices and currency volatility. Those are the two biggies this earning season. Shares off more than 7 percent to $110.26.
McCormick’s first quarter results topped estimates. The spice maker did note that its earnings were weighed down by a stronger dollar. The company says currency fluctuations will take a bite out of its sales outlook for the year. Still, shares up more than 2 1/2 percent to $75.12.
HERERA: Ross Stores (NASDAQ:ROST) announcing a 2-for-1 stock split. The retailer says the move reflects its recent strong performance and optimism about the future. The split will be paid out as a 100 percent stock dividend in June. Shares were up a fraction to $106.64.
Kofax saw its stock soar after hours, as the software company agreed to be acquired by the printer maker Lexmark. That deal valued at $1 billion, and Lexmark says it will double the size of its enterprise software business. Shares of Kofax shot up as much as 35 percent after the close. Lexmark popped as much as 4 percent after hours.
And Merck’s board of directors has authorized a new $10 billion stock repurchase program. That brings its total buyback program to nearly $12 billion. The announcement sent shares initially higher in after hours trading. The stock finished the regular session slightly lower to $58.63.
MATHISEN: For the better part of a decade, a joint venture between Boeing (NYSE:BA) and Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT) had a virtual monopoly on providing rockets to the government. But now, it’s facing a significant challenge from SpaceX, Elon Musk’s startup. And the pressure on Boeing (NYSE:BA) and Lockheed’s joint venture is mounting.
Jane Wells was given unprecedented access inside its rocket building facility in Decatur, Alabama.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a very first stage of building a rocket.
JANE WELLS, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT CORRESPONDENT: Inside America’s largest rocket company, they have never been busier.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is your spray on foam installation that’s actually sprayed in that booth and then they come in here and shave it off.
WELLS: United Launch Alliance or ULA, a joint venture of Boeing (NYSE:BA) and Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT), makes big rockets but it’s trying to make the price tag smaller.
GWYNNE SHOTWELL: I don’t understand how ULA is as expensive as they are.
WELLS: At a congressional hearing last week, the president of ULA rival SpaceX criticized the veteran rocket company for being too slow to change and too expensive for taxpayers, as SpaceX seeks a piece of ULA’s military launch business from the Air Force.
In response, ULA pointed to its perfect record of 92 launches.
TORY BRUNO, ULA: When you’re launching national security missions, some of which are multi-billion dollars, one of a kind assets, upon which lives depend, reliability matters.
WELLS: But the pressure is on, and now, ULA is announcing plans for a brand new rocket. One with an American engine possibly made by Blue Origin owned by Jeff Bezos. It’s asking the public to name the rocket, either Eagle, Freedom or Galaxy One.
What can tell me about this rocket?
BRUNO: It is going to be more powerful, more capable than any rocket we’ve made before and even less expensive.
WELLS: Here’s the dilemma: ULA’s Atlas rockets run on Russian engine, we saw one being delivered which Congress says can no longer be used after 2019. But a new engine may not be certified until 2022 and flying the bigger Delta rockets all the time could be too expensive. That leads a gap which only SpaceX might fill.
The ULA CEO says he can’t let that happen.
BRUNO: The country really needs to have two systems in case there’s an urgent need. I’m expecting Congress to give us just a little bit more time.
WELLS: You mean to get a few more Russian engines for that gap.
BRUNO: Yes, I do.
UNIDNETIFIED MALE: This space right here, I mean, you can barely even feel it.
WELLS: Most agree here that competition has been good and it’s making a company with a perfect record better.
How much faster would you say it is now to put one of these together than when you started?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I started? Thirty percent to 40 percent faster, and we’re expecting to get that same amount here in the next few years.
WELLS: For NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT, Jane Wells, Decatur, Alabama.
HERERA: Coming up, tax season is here and the last thing you want to do is leave money on the table. So, we have a list of deductions you might not know about.
HERERA: Here’s a look at what to watch tomorrow: As Mary Thompson reported a bit earlier, American Express (NYSE:EXPR) (NYSE:AXP) meets with investors. The Supreme Court will hear a challenge to the environmental protection agency’s rules on power plant emissions. And durable goods orders for February will be released before the opening bell. And that is what to watch tomorrow.
MATHISEN: It’s Tax Tuesday. Did you know that, Sue? It’s Tax Tuesday.
HERERA: I did. I’m ready to take note.
MATHISEN: And with April 15 fast approaching, we’re going to discuss different strategies for your finances as you prepare to file, if you haven’t done so, already, like me.
We begin tonight with a look at deductions, because no one wants to pay more taxes than they must.
Sharon Epperson is with us from New York City.
SHARON EPPERSON, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Ty.
MATHISEN: What are the most overlooked deductions, the ones people miss?
EPPERSON: Well, you know, these deductions could save you thousands of dollars and the one people often miss is charitable contributions. Sure, you might keep a record of the checks that you wrote or some of the cash that you made if you got a receipt because you want to make sure you have documentation. But did you donate money base on your salary, perhaps you had deducted from your paycheck. You need to then go to that pay stub at the end of the year, add it all up and include that amount.
And if you were driving to a charitable activity, you can deduct 14 cents a mile. So, some people don’t realize that.
Another big one for millennials, for those just starting and just starting to save for retirement is the retirement savers credit. And you have to have a certain income level that’s less than $61,000 for a married copy l and $31,500 if you’re single. But you can have a saver’s credit of $1,000 for an individual, $2,000 for a couple, based on the fact that you put into a retirement savings plan.
So, this is key. If you’ve lost a job or you were only working part of the year, you may qualify for the savers credit even if you didn’t last year.
Another one to think about is look at, see if you can possibly get a deduction for dependent care credit. A lot of people know about the nanny and the day care that you can deduct and get a credit rather for dependent care.
But what about summer camp? You may qualify, some of those expenses may qualify for the dependent care credit as well.
HERERA: Summer camp? I wish I’d known that last year, Sharon.
EPPERSON: Yes, you can do an amended return. You can still got back and —
HERERA: I could. That’s true and I might. It’s expensive.
All right. What are some tax credits and deductions and credits that might expire that I need to take advantage of now?
EPPERSON: You know, Congress always does the 11th hour and they extend certain tax breaks. They did that at the end of 2014. So, we’re good for 2014 but may not be good after that.
So, you want to make sure that if you’re in a no-income tax state, that you take the sales tax deduction because you could take a sales tax deduction or, say, income tax deduction, whichever is better for you. So, go to the IRS table, see what works out if you’re in the no-state income tax state, and then you definitely want to take that sales tax deduction.
The other thing is maybe energy tax credit. Maybe you made some improvements to your home, up to $500 if they’re energy efficient improvements. That may be worth a credit to you.
And another one, tuition and fees deduction. If you paying for a child’s college education, you want to figure out if there’s any way that you can save money there. And so, there are a number of credits, but there’s also this fee and tuition deduction that you may want to consider for about $4,000.
MATHISEN: All right. Sharon, got to leave it there. Thank very much.
MATHISEN: We appreciate it. Good ideas, one and all.
HERERA: Really good advice.
HERERA: That will do it for NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT for tonight. I’m Sue Herera. Thanks for joining us.
MATHISEN: And thanks from me as well. I’m Tyler Mathisen.
Have a great evening, everybody, and we hope to find you right back here tomorrow.
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